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.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s admission has increased by $1 across all categories. Admission is now $12 for adults; $11 for seniors ages 55 and older; and $8 for children ages 3–12. Admission remains free for children ages 3 and younger and for members.
The last price increase was in 2011, before the Garden consistently hosted Butterflies LIVE! (which is included with admission). > Read more.
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.
But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.
That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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