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Legislation Allows School Divisions To Set Pre-Labor Day Start Date

Virginia school districts now have the option to start school before Labor Day waiver-free.
Virginia school districts now have the option to start school before Labor Day waiver-free.  

Virginia school districts now have the option to start school before Labor Day without requesting a waiver from the state department of education. The 1986 so-called Kings Dominion law required school divisions to either start school after Labor Day or get special permission to start earlier. 

Now, due to legislation passed this year, they don’t have to ask the state for permission to start up to two weeks earlier. It’s something that school districts like Henrico County Public Schools have been advocating for a long time, says Andy Jenks, communications director for the district. 

They want to align their start time with other Virginia districts that are already starting earlier because of their waiver applications, and to give students more instructional time to prepare for AP exams.

“Henrico students are starting today [September 3rd] and will still take an AP exam on the same day that their counterparts in southwestern Virginia take the same AP exams,” said Jenks. “But just because you have the option, it doesn't necessarily mean you go right into starting school before Labor Day.”

The district still plans to start school the day after Labor Day again next year but will start to think about the possibility of starting earlier for fall 2021 when it puts together its two-year calendar in the coming months.

“We wanted to announce this now so families can start planning confidently for next summer,” said Beth Teigen, Henrico Schools’ deputy superintendent in a statement Tuesday. “We hope to be able to present draft school calendars for both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years to the School Board later in the fall, but for now we can be clear that school in 2020 will still open the Tuesday after Labor Day.”

A spokesperson for Richmond Public Schools said the district will look into the option as it develops its calendar for next year. Chesterfield County Public Schools said they’ll also consider the option of starting earlier next fall as they plan for the 2020-2021 school year.

“This could be considered, but would first need to be discussed with parents, staff and the community,” Shawn Smith, director of media relations for Chesterfield County Public Schools, said in an email. “Dr. Daugherty has said he would like to consider adopting a school calendar for the next several years beyond just one school year at a time.” 

Charles Pyle, director of media relations for Virginia’s Department of Education, says well over half of Virginia school divisions have held a start-time waiver under one circumstance or another over the years.

“It’s been quite a while since most students in Virginia went to school after Labor Day,” Pyle said. “The opposite has been true for quite a few years.”

According to the new legislation, divisions that do decide to start school earlier waiver-free can’t hold classes the Friday before Labor Day. Waivers will still apply to divisions that want to start earlier than two weeks before the holiday.