Skirmish over first day of school in Va. to be refought

WASHINGTON — The battle has been fought before, but Virginia lawmakers will consider at least one bill that would do away with the almost 30-year-old rule that forbids schools from beginning the school year before Labor Day.

A bill introduced for the 2019 legislative session by Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Midlothian), Senate Bill 1005, would allow school boards to set their own starting day, regardless of whether it falls before or after the public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September.

It is likely legislators in both houses will introduce similar bills.

The so-called “Kings Dominion Law,” passed in 1986, was intended to boost the region’s tourism industry, and gave students who work in that industry the chance to work through the traditional end of summer.

Until now, school boards have been able to seek waivers. Last year, Fairfax County was granted a waiver, because the school system was closed for snow and other events for an average of 8.4 days in 5 of the past 10 years — over the law’s threshold of 8 days.

Locally, Loudoun and Prince William Counties have also qualified for a waiver, and are scheduled to begin school before Sept. 3. The City of Alexandria, Arlington and Stafford Counties are set to resume classes after Labor Day.

The bill introduced by Chase reads: “Each local school board shall be responsible for setting the school calendar determining the opening day of the school year.”

It would also eliminate the “good cause” reasons for waivers.

In making its case for a waiver last year, Fairfax County said the change to the school calendar would “provide more instructional time before winter break [and] enhanced flexibility to help students and school staff members meet college application deadlines, and to end the school year earlier in June.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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