By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Jan. 23, 2018 | 1:15 p.m.
VIRGINIA – For most school divisions in Virginia, that first Tuesday after Labor Day usually means the first day of classes for students but several bills moving through the General Assembly could remove that requirement from school divisions.
Four House bills and a State Senate bill would make it so local school boards would be responsible for setting their individual school calendars and determining the opening day of the school year by removing the language that calls for a post-Labor Day opening.
Currently, Virginia Code Section 22.1-79.1, known as the “Kings Dominion law,” requires every local school board to set their school calendar while mandating “that the first day students are required to attend school shall be after Labor Day,” with the opening for a Virginia Board of Education waiver being present to allow for individual school boards to petition to start school on a different day if “it meets one of the good cause requirements” laid out in state law.
According to the state’s current language, those “good cause requirements” can include things such as if, “A school division has been closed an average of eight days per year during any five of the last 10 years because of severe weather conditions, energy shortages, power failures, or other emergency situations,” a school system is providing an “experimental or innovative program which requires an earlier opening date,” or, “A school division is entirely surrounded by a school division that has an opening date prior to Labor Day,” in which case they would be along to open the same day as those other school divisions.
In the five pieces of legislation, it would be up to the local schools to “be responsible for setting the school calendar and determining the opening day of the school year,” striking the language requiring the post-Labor Day opening and good cause requirements.
In documents from the Virginia Department of Education, over 80 school divisions start their school year at some point during the month of August out of over 125 school division in the Commonwealth.
The move to remove the language comes on the heels of the Commonwealth’s largest school division, Fairfax starting school before Labor Day on Aug. 28 this year.
In a report from The Washington Post, Fairfax County Public Schools was granted the waiver to start the school year earlier by the Virginia Board of Education due to the number of snow days it had tallied over the past ten years.
Their report also noted such a bill has garnered concern from tourism activists, who argue a Commonwealth-wide shift to pre-Labor Day school starts could cost statewide tourism hundreds of millions of dollars.
The bills are currently in committee in the House of Delegates and State Senate. A similar bill was introduced in 2014 and passed through the House but died in the State Senate Health and Education committee.