Momentum builds to let schools open before Labor Day

Parents should think twice about scheduling a family vacation at the end of August or in early September.

Gov. Robert McDonnell wants to give Virginia school systems the authority to start classes before Labor Day.

McDonnell has proposed repealing Virginia’s so-called “Kings Dominion law,” which prohibits public schools from opening before Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the state.

Such waivers have become commonplace: Of the 132 school districts in Virginia, 77 of them received a waiver for this school year.

“So now the exception has become the rule,” McDonnell said at a news conference outlining his education agenda for the 2012 legislative session. “When that happens, it seems like the rule should be modified.”

The Republican governor acknowledged that repealing the Kings Dominion law will have a dramatic impact on the tourism industry.

That industry – including theme parks such as Kings Dominion in Hanover County – traditionally has sought to prevent schools from opening before Labor Day.

However, local officials say they should have the authority to set their school calendars as they see fit.

Beginning school in early September instead of late August puts students at a disadvantage because they don’t have as much time to prepare for standardized national tests, according to the Virginia School Boards Association. The group supports repealing the Kings Dominion law.

“We stand ready to work with you to get that done,” Joan Wodiska, the association’s president, said at McDonnell’s press conference on Monday.

“Much has changed in the nearly three decades since the passage of the Labor Day Law. This relic of the old economy is the definition of a burdensome, costly, outdated and unnecessary state mandate. In fact, today, the state Labor Day law directly conflicts with Virginia’s economic and educational goals. It must be repealed,” said Wodiska, who chairs the Falls Church City School Board.

McDonnell isn’t the only state official clamoring to remove the pre-Labor Day restrictions. Legislators so far have filed eight bills to address the issue.

Four of the bills would eliminate the Labor Day rule entirely and make local school boards “responsible for setting the school calendar and determining the opening of the school year.” They are:
House Bill 15, sponsored by Delegate Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem.

HB 86, by Delegate Thomas Greason, R-Lansdowne (Loudoun County).

HB 113, by Delegate Joseph Morrissey, D-Richmond.

HB 434, by Delegate Robert Tata, R-Virginia Beach.

Four other bills would modify but not eliminate the school calendar restrictions:

HB 43, also by Tata, would allow schools to start classes “no earlier than two weeks prior to Labor Day and no later than the day after Labor Day.”

HB 254, proposed by Delegate Christopher Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, would let classes begin “no earlier than one week before Labor Day.”

HB 602, sponsored by Delegate James LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, would allow schools to open “no earlier than the fourth Monday in August.”

And HB 591, by Delegate Donald Merricks, R-Chatham, would remove the post-Labor Day rule for the public schools in Henry County, Pittsylvania County and the city of Martinsville.

The bills will be considered by the House Education Committee.

To track or comment on the school calendar legislation, visit RichmondSunlight.com.
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