By Jessica Samuels
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Students in Virginia’s largest public school districts can continue enjoying summer vacation through the Labor Day weekend after a Senate panel killed a bill that would have allowed school districts to start classes earlier.
House Bill 1983, which sought to end a rule nicknamed the “Kings Dominion Law,” had been approved by the House in January. But the Senate Education and Health Committee voted 9-6 that the bill be “passed by indefinitely.”
Under current state law, public schools cannot start before Labor Day unless they get a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education because of harsh winter weather or other “good cause.” The bill would have removed the waiver requirement and allowed school systems to decide when to resume classes.
“Each local school board shall be responsible for setting the school calendar and determining the opening date of the school year,” stated the legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Thomas “Tag” Greason, R-Loudoun.
Greason noted that this was the eighth year in a row that he had carried a bill “giving local control to the localities on their school calendar.”
“It’s commonly referred to as the Labor Day bill, the Kings Dominion bill. We are just allowing the localities to set their date on their own,” he said.
The Senate Education and Health Committee killed the bill at its meeting last Thursday. In January, the panel had voted down a Senate bill (SB 1111, by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke) to expand the reasons that school districts could receive a waiver to open before Labor Day.
More than 75 school districts in Northern Virginia and the western half of the state already have waivers to hold classes before Labor Day. That is usually because they have a history of having to close schools during the winter because of snow or other weather conditions.
About 55 school systems do not have waivers. They include many of Virginia’s largest districts, such as the public schools in Fairfax, Virginia Beach, Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond.
Supporters of the current law say that it helps protect Virginia’s tourism industry and that parents prefer to have schools on vacation until after Labor Day, the traditional end of summer.
Theme parks like Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens have advocated keeping schools from starting before Labor Day. That holiday weekend can be a last chance for families to visit the parks for the summer. The theme parks also rely on teenage workers who would have to quit before the season ends if schools started early.
Critics of the current law say local school boards should be able to set the calendar. Some also believe that starting classes before Labor Day would boost students’ academic performance.
How they voted
Here is how the Senate Education and Health Committee voted on HB 1983 (“School calendar; opening day of school year”).
02/09/17 Senate: Passed by indefinitely in Education and Health (9-Y 6-N)
YEAS – Newman, Saslaw, Lucas, Barker, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Lewis, Dunnavant – 9.
NAYS – Howell, Locke, Petersen, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake – 6.