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Hot weather a boon for ND group wanting later start date for school

BISMARCK -- As the state Department of Public Instruction takes calls from school districts about closing schools due to excessive heat, a group of parents who want the school year to start after Labor Day are using the high temperatures to their advantage.

"We don't typically call off school for heat in North Dakota," said Matt Strinden, the department's director of teacher and school effectiveness. "It's very unusual for us to have problems with heat."

Since Monday, temperatures have soared into the mid-90s and heated up classrooms in many schools without air conditioning. Strinden said the department has received a half-dozen calls from schools around the state, but so far, Fargo is the only school district officials know of that has called off school.

Strinden said they won't know which schools let students out early or closed until school districts submit plans to revise their calendars.

But while school officials are doing what they can to keep students cool during their first few days back, supporters of the effort to require schools to start after Labor Day are fielding more calls this week from concerned parents wanting to help.

Kelly Heinert, a co-sponsor of the effort to put the issue to a statewide vote in November 2014, said this week just shows that it's pretty obvious why North Dakotans need to support the petition and pass it into law.

"It's just common sense, and this week puts an exclamation point on it," he said. "We have had a lot of hot weather before, but with us pushing this issue, people are saying we are right and this is wrong."

Heinert said the group is almost finished collecting the 25 signatures needed for the petition's sponsoring committee. Once those are gathered, which Heinert anticipated by the end of Tuesday or today, the committee will submit its proposed law to the secretary of state for his approval.

Once approved, the group can begin collecting the 13,452 signatures needed to put it on the ballot.

Heinert said they have co-sponsors from Oakes, Grand Forks, Fargo, Mott and Dickinson, and they are working to find someone in the Williston area.

"We're trying to hit all corners of the state," he said.

The co-sponsors will play a large part in collecting the required signatures.

On Tuesday, Heinert said more people are looking up the group on Facebook and sending emails.

He added that many of the co-sponsors also are hearing from people about the high temperatures during what for many is the first week of school.

"People are saying this is ridiculous," he said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.