RICHMOND — This year’s General Assembly session might mark the end of a longstanding rule that limits school-year start dates to after Labor Day.
About a dozen bills were filed by delegates and senators addressing school-start times. Additionally, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is backing the proposed repeal of Virginia’s so-called Kings Dominion law, which prohibits public schools from opening before Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the state.
Of the 132 school districts in Virginia, 77 of them received a waiver for the current school year, including Loudoun County.
“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.”
Fairfax County Public School parents, however, should not worry about needing to change their summer travel plans should the rule become moot.
“The School Board has already said if that does pass, we won’t adjust our calendar until after next year,” Superintendent Jack D. Dale said Jan. 12 during a press conference on the fiscal 2013 budget.
Modifying the calendar to an earlier start date could have budget implications, he said, which is one reason the School Board approved the delay. However, since this decision a new School Board has taken office, which could mean a shift allowing the earlier start date.
There definitely is more attention on the Dominion Law this year, said Michael Molloy, director of Government Relations for the Fairfax County school system.
“I would be extremely hesitant to say this year is the year,” he said. “But there is a lot more visibility.”
House and Senate discussions on the Labor Day rule likely will begin in a week or two, Molloy said.
The governor has acknowledged repealing the Kings Dominion law could have a dramatic impact on the tourism industry.
That industry — including theme parks such as Kings Dominion in Hanover County, for which the rule takes its name — traditionally has sought to prevent schools from opening before Labor Day.
However, local school boards say they should have the authority to set their school calendars.
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 Jan. 9.
“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,” said Wodiska, who also chairs the Falls Church City School Board. “In fact, today, the state Labor Day law directly conflicts with Virginia’s economic and educational goals. It must be repealed.”
Fairfax County Times reporter Holly Hobbs contributed to this report.