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Almost 8,000 sign petition asking Burgum to pardon school snow days

School buses were on their routes later than normal in late January due to classes starting two hours late due to cold weather in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Above, a bus on the Bismarck Expressway in the near whiteout conditions on Jan. 28. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

MINTO, N.D. - North Dakota law requires public schools to make up lost days due to weather cancellations, but one Minto woman has filed an online petition to change that.

Shaina Hess on Thursday started a change.org petition asking Gov. Doug Burgum to pardon snow days for North Dakota schools. Her request came after a string of recent cancellations, including four snow days in two weeks at school districts throughout eastern North Dakota.

"School districts did the logical thing by canceling school," Hess wrote in the petition. "Students and staff should not be forced to make up these days due to the extreme conditions."

According to North Dakota Century Code, schools must make "every effort to reschedule" missed days if they exceed the number of predetermined snow days. In Grand Forks, there are two storm days built into the school calendar each year, Superintendent Terry Brenner said earlier this week.

"When our U.S. Postal Service isn't going to run, and we have rural kids riding buses for hours to get to school, I don't think it's fair to expect the schools to use up their days," Hess said in a phone interview Friday. "Our governor needs to be aware there is a case for a pardon here."

As of Friday afternoon, Hess' petition had garnered almost 8,000 signatures.

Hess, who declined to discuss her occupation, said she created the petition after posting a joke about "summer being canceled" on Facebook. Another friend suggested asking the governor to waive the requirement for making up lost days.

"I had been thinking the same thing," Hess said. "So I took it upon myself (to file the petition)."

Hess noted there have been some years where schools didn't use a single snow day.

"Now this year, we've had to use some, and (Burgum) can be a little more gracious," Hess said. "That's kind of why I really started it."

On Friday afternoon, Burgum announced he would consider granting school districts waivers on a case-by-case basis. While the governor ruled out the notion of providing a blanket pardon across the state, schools that have made "every effort" to make up missed school days could receive a waiver.

"There has not been a single day this academic year during which every district in the state has been closed," Burgum said in a statement. "Therefore, a statewide waiver would be inappropriate for those districts that provided instruction when others didn't, due to our state's geographic size and highly variable weather."

Hess's petition isn't the first time North Dakotans have asked the governor to pardon snow days. In 2014, Larry Nybladh, then-superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools, asked former Gov. Jack Dalrymple to waive the requirement to make up lost time after five canceled school days.

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