Local school districts have said they would prefer to set their own timetables for school calendars. They run into opposition from the Virginia tourism industry, however, which argues that beginning school before Labor Day would hurt business.
"We do support the legislation that would allow school boards to determine their own start of school date," said Jennifer Parish, superintendent of Poquoson City Schools. "A change in the law would provide needed flexibility in the calendar and better support the instructional needs of students across Virginia."
Parish's sentiments were echoed by Newport News School Board Vice Chairman Jeffrey Stodghill. Stodghill said the later school starts the greater disadvantage students have for standardized tests.
Legislators from the Peninsula have split on the issue. Some, such as state Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, argue that moving the start of the school year ahead of Labor Day would not make a significant difference.
"The argument has been that schools need additional time to teach to the SOLs, so they want to start school before Labor Day," Miller said. He said he asked the Virginia Department of Education to look at test results in the third and fourth grades on schools that begin before and after Labor Day.
Miller said "there was virtually no difference."
"To me, if there was really no difference in test results, then it made sense to keep things where they are to make sure that our tourism industry is not adversely impacted," Miller said. Busch Gardens would likely lay some employees off in August if schools started that early, he said.
But Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, said she supported efforts to allow school districts to set their own schedule. "They know what's best for their children," she said.
Ward was joined by Del. Mayme BaCote, D-Newport News, in voting for the bills that passed Tuesday.
The legislation was opposed by local legislators Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, and Del. Brenda Pogge, R-James City.
"The chambers of commerce are opposed to it," Pogge told the Daily Press late last month. "Parents are opposed to it. We rely on the monies that come into the general fund from tourism to run the same schools that want the waivers," she said.
The bills will now be considered by the Virginia Senate. State Senate Democratic Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, has said it's unlikely the bills would garner enough support to pass there.
Contact Bogues by phone at 757-247-4536. Fain can be reached at 757-503-1759.