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School Calendar – To Start before Labor Day or After Labor Day, That is the question!

The Stafford School Board has been discussing changes to future school year calendars that could have students filling classrooms before Labor Day.   In a presentation by the Superintendent at their May 22 meeting members received proposed school year calendars for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years that sets the first day of school in the 2nd week of August.

The Kings Dominion Law

The idea of moving the start of school prior to Labor Day has been discussed by the board in previous years, however it never gained enough support among board members to be adopted.  Stafford County has traditionally started school the day after Labor Day.  One of the reasons for starting after Labor Day is Virginia’s “Kings Dominion Law”.  The Kings Dominion Law states that Virginia school districts cannot begin school prior to Labor Day in order to support the tourism labor force.  Because the amusement park in Doswell relies on high school aged kids for labor they advocated the state legislature in 1986 to adopt a law on school year start date.

In more recent years the state Department of Education has been enabled to issue waivers to the law.  Jurisdictions can apply for a waiver and be relieved for the post-Labor Day start date.   The state allows waivers for the following reasons:

  • Being 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
  • Being entirely surrounded by a school division with a pre-Labor Day opening and wishes to open its schools on the same date.
  • Providing instructional programs in partnership with another school division that already qualifies for a waiver. (Applies to only the opening dates for those schools in the division dependent upon one or more schools outside the division.)
  • Providing students with an experimental or innovative program – including instructional programs offered on a year-round basis – that requires an earlier opening date and has been approved by VDOE as meeting Board of Education regulations. This option requires a formal approval process and Board of Education action via application below.

There are many jurisdictions that have been given waivers and start prior to Labor Day.  The list of counties that have a waiver can be found on the state Dept of Education website. Stafford County could likely be granted a waiver for many of the reasons for which jurisdictions can apply.

The Virginia General Assembly has entertained and even passed legislation to abolish the Kings Dominion law, but the legislation has never made it past a governor’s desk (vetoed by both Republican and Democrat governors).  In the 2018 session all bills related to the repeal of the Kings Dominion Law died in committee.   We can be certain there will be bills introduced in the next session to call for the repeal again.   However, we can also be ensured the campaign donations from Kings Dominion will be certain to stop the legislation from making it to the Governor’s desk or being signed by the governor anytime soon.

Our neighbors and beyond

One of the reasons Stafford may apply for a waiver is dependent on what surrounding jurisdictions are doing.   We have taken a look at surrounding areas to ascertain if jurisdictions around us are all starting prior to Labor Day.  Below is a table of data collected with start days,end of school year days, holidays recognized and winter and spring break information.  In this we looked at the 2018-2019 school year calendar for each of the jurisdictions.   Many are still working on and have not published calendars for 2019 and beyond.  While the proposals Stafford is working on is for 2019, we can assume dates would be generally close to what is in the table below.

County Start End Winter Break Start Winter Break End Labor Day Columbus Day Veterans Day Election Day Thanksgiving MLK Day President’s Day Spring Break Start Spring Break End Memorial Day
Prince William 8/27/2018 6/11/2019 12/21/2018 1/2/2019 x x x 3 x x 4/15/2019 4/19/2019 x
Fauqier 8/15/2018 5/30/2019 12/24/2018 1/4/2019 x Y y 4/15/2019 4/19/2019 x
Spotsylvania 8/13/2018 5/24/2019 12/21/2018 1/3/2019 x y 3 x x 4/19/2019 4/26/2019 n/a
King George 8/13/2018 5/24/2019 12/21/2018 1/3/2019 x x x y 3 x x 4/15/2019 4/22/2019 n/a
Caroline 8/13/2018 5/22/2019 12/24/2018 1/4/2019 x * y 3 x x 4/1/2019 4/5/2019 n/a
Culpepper 8/13/2018 5/21/2019 12/24/2018 1/4/2019 x 3 x 4/22/2019 4/26/2019 n/a
Fairfax County 8/28/2018 6/13/2019 12/24/2018 1/4/2019 x y y 3 x x 4/15/2019 4/19/2019 x
Loudon 8/23/2018 6/7/2019 12/21/2018 1/1/2019 x y 3 x x 4/15/2019 4/19/2019 x
Hanover 9/4/2018 6/13/2019 12/20/2018 1/2/2019 x y y 3 x 4/1/2019 4/5/2019 x
Henrico 9/4/2018 6/14/2019 12/20/2018 1/2/2019 x y y 3 x 4/1/2019 4/5/2019
Frederkcisburg City 9/4/2018 6/13/2019 12/20/2018 1/2/2019 x y 3 x x 4/22/2019 4/26/2019 x

x = Student and staff holiday
y = Student holiday – staff professional/work/service day
3 = 3 day holiday for Thanksgiving (Wed.-Fri.)

 

Pros and Cons for starting before Labor Day

There have been several pros and cons expressed by parents, teachers and other staff on starting or not starting before Labor Day.  Many educators have stated a reason to start prior to Labor Day is to give students more time to cover material on exams such as the Advanced Placement exams some high school students take.   There has also be expression that more time to prepare for SOL exams would improve the division’s performance on the SOL exams.   However there has been very little evidence that the increased time will have the positive effects expected.

Many parents and teachers have also expressed a desire to have the first semester of a school year to end prior to the winter break.   With a pre-Labor Day start it would require starting school in early to mid-August to accomplish this goal. Dr. Benson, in his presentation to the School Board, said if you don’t end the first semester prior to winter break it probably isn’t worth starting before Labor Day.   Completing the semester prior to winter break would enable students to complete semester exams prior to winter break and not be burdened with them when they return to school in January.  Over the last several years Stafford has been hit with winter weather right around exam week and it has caused delays in the exam and even cancellation of semester exams in 2016.   Weather would be less likely of a negative factor in December (although not a complete non-factor).

A pre-Labor Day start would also give flexibility to the division to ensure students and teachers have a full two weeks off for winter break.   With the post-Labor Day start the division has struggled to schedule two weeks for winter break.  Often, because the days of the week Christmas and New Years fall on winter break has been a week and three days.

Bus drivers have brought up lack of air conditioned buses as a con to a pre-Labor Day start.   Having to transport children in the heat of August buses will be hot and uncomfortable.   This is certainly a challenge Stafford’s surrounding jurisdictions face and Dr. Benson addressed this in his presentation.  He shared that only 4% of the current bus fleet in Stafford have air conditioning, but they could be retrofitted with a/c.   In Spotsylvania they faced a similar challenge and now have 44% of their fleet with a/c.  Meanwhile Dr. Benson relayed that Fauquier county has zero buses with air conditioning.

Other parents have expressed that the reasons to move to a pre-Labor Day start have been focused on high achieving students.   There have been concerns raised about kindergarten aged students.   With an earlier start there will be more children starting as 4 year olds.

The economics of the change have been raised as well.   Additional costs of cooling buildings has been analyzed and included n Dr. Benson’s presentation.

Parents have expressed concerns about the need to change routine vacation plans with the school schedule change.   Many families have taken vacations in mid to late August taking advantage of greater vacation location availability.

Public opinion

The School division did survey the public on the topic.   The results of the survey showed a pretty even split between those who favor pre-Labor Day and post-Labor Day starts.   Parents gave a slight edge to keeping the calendar as it has been traditionally with a post Labor Day start and school division staff gave a slight edge to changing to a pre-Labor Day start.

Members of the School Board have conducted their own polls using Facebook polls and their results have shown different results.  Aquia School Board member Irene Egan had a polled that closed on May 27th, and it showed a 63% support for pre-Labor Day start with nearly 700 respondents.  Egan expressed her support for a pre-Labor Day start at the May 22nd meeting.  She has voted in favor and supported an pre-Labor Day start for the past couple of years.  That support has likely been heard among her constituents and it shows in the results of her poll.   Griffis-Widewater School Board Member has also had a poll open that she posted in a Facebook Group for members of the Stafford Education Association which as of May 27th shows a 69% support for a pre-Labor Day start.

Voice your concerns

The School Board has agreed to hold the information item on the agenda for the next two meetings and not voting on the calendar until their June 26th meeting.   If you have thoughts or concerns about the proposed calendar contact your School Board Member and let them know how you feel.   You can also speak at School Board meetings.  They will meet on June 12 and June 26.  At each meeting they have public comment, in which anyone can speak to the board for 3 minutes.   You can find email addresses for all of the School Board members here.

Here is video of the Superintendent’s presentation to the School Board on the proposed calendars

 

 

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