Sep 6, 2010

Post-Labor Day Start Dates Thanks to the ‘Kings Dominion Law’

Today is Labor Day. For a large group of area students, Labor Day represents the last full day of freedom before the traditional start of school takes over their lives.

The Fairfax County Public School system (FCPS) expects more than 175,000 for the start of the 2010-11 school year—enough to make FCPS the largest district by far in Virginia and the 12th-largest in the U.S. Loudoun County’s 79 public schools expect an estimated 63,353 students, and the Arlington Public Schools will welcome 21,082 students.

And once again, the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association (VHTA) triumphs over local school districts by keeping the lid on legislation to move up opening day to match the earlier start dates of competing districts. DC, area private schools, and Montgomery, Frederick, and Prince George’s counties all opened weeks ago, effectively jumpstarting the race for college-bound students to prepare for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams later in the school year.

Only Virginia and Michigan have laws against starting school before Labor Day. Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Carolina require school to begin after September 1st, but in years in which Labor Day falls late on the calendar, they are free to open as early as September 2nd.

In Virginia, the law mandating post-Labor Day school openings is nicknamed the “Kings Dominion” law because of its strong backing by the Commonwealth’s tourism industry. The theory is that keeping schools closed until Labor Day helps local businesses by giving families one more week to visit amusement parks.

It also gives country clubs and tourist attractions one more week before they are forced to give up student workers. Unless participating in fall sports or band, high school students may presumably work until the last day of summer or until the pool closes for the season.

Northern Virginia school systems definitely do not love the law, which may only be circumvented by state waivers that are very seldom granted. In fact, FCPS routinely adds a request to allow the county to set its own start date in the school system’s legislative package for the General Assembly.

This year, VHTA foiled 10 proposals to rid Virginia of its current post-Labor Day school start date and give districts the authority to set their calendar to start when they want. State Delegate Bob Tata, a Virginia Beach Republican and retired school guidance counselor, introduced a compromise bill this past spring that would have allowed schools to start a few days before Labor Day when the holiday falls on or after September 5th, as it does this year. He withdrew the bill after learning of Governor McDonnell’s strong opposition.

Schools evidently don’t hold a candle to the power of the state’s tourism industry.

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