Students in local school districts might be starting their semesters early in coming years that allows the academic year to begin before Labor Day.
Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that would allow school districts to decide whether or not they could start the school year 14 days before Labor Day.
That would do away with the 1986 law commonly known as the “Kings Dominion Law,” which mandated schools to start after Labor Day.
Now, divisions have the flexibility to decide whether they want an earlier start to the year. While this flexibility it does raise logistical concerns for the divisions, said Williamsburg-James City County Schools spokeswoman Eileen Cox.
“Students from WJCC schools take part in a lot of regional programs,” she said. “So it wouldn’t just be one school division, it would have to be all the divisions in the region.”
Some of the programs Cox is referring to include the New Horizons School and the Governor’s School. With both of those programs, students attend a regional location where there are courses pertaining to a specific topic or trade.
If one district were to change its start date, that would impact those students who take part in the regional programs, Cox noted.
While the law goes into effect on July 1, Cox said the 2019-2020 academic calendar for WJCC was already approved in February so this next school year class will not start until after Labor Day.
Now that the option is available, Cox said start dates is a discussion the school board and regional calendar committees will need to have moving forward.
“As any change to school start dates will have impacts on staff and families as well as shared programs between peninsula school division, the division will take time to analyze options and gather stakeholder feedback,” said York County School Division spokeswoman, Katherine Goff.
The topic was briefly discussed during the YCSD’s school board work session on March 11 where Aaron Butler, director of school administration, presented what he termed as the three guiding factors in making future decisions.
The first is to examine how to decrease instructional fragmentation during the holiday season.
Secondly, there is also a goal to maintain the three-day Thanksgiving break for all students and staff.
Lastly, YCSD and WJCC officials both said one of the positive aspects of looking at the extended calendar is the possibility to create a longer winter break that would last two weeks.
“From a scheduling standpoint, especially from the families, having a longer break is something they desire,” Cox said.
Additionally, Cox said one of the most common requests heard from parents is a desire for more make-up days. Having an earlier start date would allow more flexibility in the academic calendar to add those extra make-up days should inclement weather require them to be used.
She added starting early can also have negative repercussions such as impacting family vacations and the summer job schedule of some students. Cox also said she wasn’t sure how an earlier start would impact the district financially because teachers would still be working the same 180 days during the year, but the days would just be spread over a longer period of time.
For both WJCC and YCSD, the academic calendars for the upcoming school year are scheduled to start after Labor Day. But with this new freedom in calendar planning, the future of the September start might change.
“I am confident that our school board would gather feedback before any decisions were made,” Goff said. In an email she added, “Undoubtedly, this process will take time and [significant] regional collaboration.”