Schools still can’t open before Labor Day

At the start of the 2012 legislative session, momentum was building for the General Assembly to repeal Virginia’s so-called “Kings Dominion law,” which prohibits public schools from opening before Labor Day without special permission.

Legislators had filed 13 bills to rescind the law and let local school boards decide when classes would start. Even Gov. Bob McDonnell weighed in, saying the current restrictions should be lifted.

But by the session’s end, each of those bills had died. And so the law nicknamed after the theme park in Hanover County remains in place: Public schools cannot open before Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education.

The final nail in the coffin came on March 1, when the Senate Education and Health Committee took up House Bill 1063, sponsored by Delegate Robert Tata, R-Virginia Beach. The measure, which had been approved 76-23 by the House, would have allowed school divisions to choose their own opening dates.

On a 6-9 vote, the committee defeated the bill. That might have been expected: A month earlier, the committee rejected a similar Senate proposal.

The General Assembly adopted the Labor Day law in 1986 as a temporary measure “to help Virginia’s tourism industry, whose officials said pre-Labor Day school openings were taking student workers before the tourism season ended,” said Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education. The law became permanent two years later.

Sen. Richard Saslaw, a Springfield Democrat and member of the committee, said he co-sponsored the first attempt to repeal the law shortly after its enactment.

“Every year since then, there’s been a bill put in to repeal this,” Saslaw said. “Every year the bill fails.”

Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a co-sponsor of HB 1063, said she thought the bill had a 50-50 chance in the Senate committee.

She said the measure would give teachers more time to instruct students before they take standardized tests and nationally administered exams. For example, high schools nationwide give advanced placement and International Baccalaureate exams on the same day. In school systems that start class before Labor Day, students have an advantage on these tests because of the extra days of education, McClellan said.

“You have our students who are competing on those tests with students who have had two more weeks of instruction, and that’s just not really fair,” she said.

Opponents of HB 1063 included Sanford Wanner, who chairs the Historic Triangle Collaborative, which promotes economic development in Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. He testified before the Senate committee on behalf of Virginia’s tourism industry.

“We are not aware of compelling evidence that opening before Labor Day in Virginia improves student performance when compared to opening after Labor Day, the traditional end of summer,” he said. “The state and local tax revenues generated by the tourism economy helps to fuel the state and local government budgets, as well as the school budgets.”

Some local government officials, such as Hanover County Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek, also argued for keeping the Labor Day law.

“We need a consistent and dependable tourism season,” Kelly-Wiecek said. “It provides an infusion, an injection of revenue to cash-strapped localities at a time when we’re facing catastrophic declines in revenue.”

Virginia Beach City Council Member Rosemary Wilson said schools there face a $37 million budget shortfall.

“One of the bright stars that we’ve had is our tourism. Our hotel taxes have been up better than they ever have,” Wilson said. “We cannot take those revenues away; our schools need those revenues.”

Proponents of HB 1063 disputed the tourism industry’s claims and argued that the Labor Day law infringed on the authority of local government.

Dana Raphael, a junior at Arlington High School, said one study cited by Virginia’s tourism industry was based on a 2004 survey of 1,234 Tennessee residents.

“If I used this kind of methodology in one of my research papers, I would receive an F,” Raphael said. “What’s right for Arlington County may not be right for Galax, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Chesterfield or Lynchburg, but each locality should get to decide what’s best their students, teachers, families and the larger community. Students must come first.”

Anne Carson, president of the Virginia Parent-Teachers Association, said Virginia parents do not all agree on when the school calendar should begin.

“What [parents] do agree on is that they want the opportunity to decide and advocate what is best for their schedules and communities,” Carson said. “The educational system should not be pushed aside by the private enterprises that seemingly still have thrived in countless other states where schools start in August.”

But Sen. Jeffery McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, a member of the Senate committee, fears that school divisions would mishandle the decision-making power.

“If given the option, I think the school boards will make the decision that would hurt business, would hurt development, and would hurt tourism in a time when we can least afford that,” said McWaters, who voted against HB 1063.

Under the existing law, schools can start before Labor Day if they must frequently close because of inclement weather. Seventy-seven of Virginia’s 132 school divisions received such waivers for this school year. Most of them are in the more rural, less populated western half of Virginia.

The largest school divisions in the Richmond area, Tidewater and Northern Virginia do not qualify for waivers.
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Henrico Schools to host College and Career Night Nov. 1


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College and Career Night will take place Wednesday, Nov. 1 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Henrico High School, 302 Azalea Ave. > Read more.

Business in brief


Henrico-based nonprofit Commonwealth Autism recently received the Standards for Excellence Institute’s Seal of Excellence for successfully completing its accreditation program. Commonwealth Autism voluntarily opened itself to analysis by a peer review team during the last 18 months that examined the organization’s compliance with the “Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.” These standards cover areas such as: mission, strategy and evaluation; leadership – board, staff and volunteers; legal compliance and ethics; finance and operations; resource development; and public awareness, engagement and advocacy. Commonwealth Autism was one of six organizations in the Richmond region to be recognized and the first in the region to achieve full accreditation. In addition to this accreditation, Commonwealth Autism is recognized as an Accredited Charity with the Richmond Better Business Bureau and holds accreditation from the Code of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations (COEBO). > Read more.

Purify Infrared Sauna opens at GreenGate


Purify Infrared Sauna recently opened its second Henrico location at GreenGate Shopping Center in Short Pump.

Owner Mary Woodbridge opened her first Purify location on Patterson Avenue in July 2015. The new store is located at 301 Maltby Boulevard, Suite C, west of Short Pump Town Center. > Read more.

Henrico Master Gardener training program accepting applications through Oct. 27


The Henrico County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for its next volunteer Master Gardener training program, which provides instruction in all aspects of horticulture.

Applications for the 2018 training program will be accepted through Friday, Oct. 27. Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 16 through March 22. > Read more.

Henrico Schools to host Oct. 30 job fair


Henrico Schools will host a job fair Oct. 30.

The event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairfield branch library, is designed to attract potential full-time and substitute registered nurses, instructional assistants, bus drivers and school nutrition workers. > Read more.

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October 2017
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The Henrico Pops Chorus’ winter concert, A Holiday Portrait, will take place at 7:30 p.m. at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Using the unifying theme of the family portrait album, this heartwarming celebration takes a touching look at families and the value of family relationships at Christmastime. Admission is free. For reservations, call 501-5859. Full text

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