Local schools react to proposed school calendar bill

Supporters say the bill could improve learning, other schools not impacted

A new bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly coul d free up schools across the Commonwealth to decide when their new school years will begin.

If signed into law, it would override what's known as 'The Kings Dominion Law,' which required schools to start after Labor Day, unless they had a waiver letting them start early to make up for days missed due to severe weather.

The new bill splits schools into different categories. Schools that didn't have waivers can now start up to 14 days before Labor Day and must close the Friday before Labor Day through the Monday holiday.

Schools that had waivers for the 2018-2019 school year can start before that 14-day limitation, but must also close Friday and Monday for Labor Day weekend.

The last category applies to schools with waivers in 2011-2012. They can start school at any time and do not have to close for the holiday weekend. Those school districts include Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Boutetourt County, Bedford County and Radford City.

Robert Graham, the superintendent of Radford City Public Schools, says the flexibility could help students focus and perform better in class.

"Adding on days to the end of the school year -- we have found -- is just not a good thing for our students," he said.

The bill could also level the playing field for standardized testing between school districts. Schools that were not allowed to start before Labor Day can now have the same amount of time to prepare students.

"We want to give all of our students the best opportunity to be successful," said Annette Lewis, the chair of the Roanoke City School Board .

Opponents say the bill might hurt tourism or shorten summer vacations and time families can spend together. However, Lewis said tourism is not a big concern in Roanoke City and having shorter summer breaks can reduce 'summer slide,' a decline in academic skills that can happen when school isn't in session.

Other schools say they will not be impacted and can choose to start after Labor Day, including Salem City Publc Schools.

Roanoke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely released a statement that reads:

"This bill will not affect Roanoke County Public Schools very much since we will need to continue to use our waiver.

We have shifted our calendar in order to finish first semester before Winter Break. In order to do so, we have to start more than 2 weeks before Labor Day. In order to observe the new requirement that schools close the Friday before Labor Day, we would also have to build in an extra day elsewhere.

The new bill is a step in the right direction but falls short of truly allowing the calendar to be a local decision."

Schools that support the bill say it's a start to give some power back to where it belongs.

"We're glad to hear that we will continue to have local control, and be able to design a calendar that we feel is best for our school system," Graham said.

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