Several months after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law allowing school districts to start classes before Labor Day, school divisions in the Historic Triangle are asking the community whether earlier classes are a good idea.
On Tuesday, both the York County School Division and Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools released coordinated surveys to parents looking for input on possible changes to the divisions’ annual calendars.
In one online survey landing page, York County schools said it’s important for regional school division calendars to be similar because schools “share many services regionally” for students.
Some of those shared resources include New Horizons Regional Education Centers, Enterprise Academy and special education sites.
“Students from WJCC schools take part in a lot of regional programs,” WJCC Schools spokeswoman Eileen Cox told WYDaily in March. “So it wouldn’t just be one school division, it would have to be all the divisions in the region.”
WJCC’s letter to parents, guardians, students and staff Tuesday included the same language.
“The results of this survey will assist each school division’s Superintendent, School Board, and calendar planning committee as the 2020-2021 school calendar is developed,” WJCC Schools wrote in the email.
An August start date could also help schools “bank” instructional days to help prepare for adverse impacts by weather events.
Change in law
Since 1986, Virginia schools followed a regulation known as the “King’s Dominion Law.”
The law required schools to start classes after Labor Day, unless they qualified for a waiver.
Now, more than half of Virginia’s school divisions have transitioned to a new schedule beginning in August. Of the state’s 132 school divisions, 87 now open ahead of Labor Day, according to the York County School Division.
The bill, approved by the General Assembly during this year’s session, means schools can start classes up to 14 days before Labor Day if they also close from the Friday before Labor Day through the holiday.
While school can now start before Labor Day, the school year calendar must still meet some requirements and take other factors into consideration.
A standard school year needs to consist of at least 180 teaching days, or 990 teaching hours per year.
School divisions also aim to use regional programs for students, build-in employee professional development and maintain holidays and school breaks.