It is starting to feel like the movie, “Groundhog Day,” where we keep waking up and living the same issue over and over.
Every year local districts ask the Virginia General Assembly to stop micromanaging the first day of school for localities across the commonwealth. And regularly State Board of Education members comment on the ridiculousness of the law that prevents some districts from picking a start date that makes sense for them. It’s known as the “Kings Dominion law,” named after the Doswell, Va., amusment park because it was designed to guarantee student workers, as well as tourists, for Virginia vacation sites.
But the law is the subject of great frustration in Alexandria and elsewhere.
There are holes in the Kings Dominion law that have turned it into the poster child for legislative contortion-ism. The law allows school districts in heavier snow areas to set their start date so they can take more time off during winter. This exception has been expanded in recent years so school districts located adjacent to “snow” districts can also determine their calendars.
The result? The majority of Virginia school districts have the right to set their own start date. If your district is close to the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can control your calendar. If you are near the ocean or I- 95 (location of Kings Dominion), the General Assembly tells you when school starts. Seem fair? Of course not.
In a state with growing expectations for student success, every school district should have the flexibility to prepare its students to achieve. In my trips to the beach or to amusement parks, I see a lot of workers from other countries — it says so on their name tags — selling corn dogs and large stuffed animals, so I question the critical need of the school calendar to guarantee student workers. And the idea families would stop visiting amusement parks if school started before Labor Day seems pretty odd. People may vacation on different weekends, but I have a hard time believing riding roller coasters would suddenly lose favor altogether.
Treating local school districts differently based on their proximity to the beach is a ridiculous contortion of state power. Local districts understandably want the ability to set their calendar and to manage their schools in the way they believe will be most beneficial for student success. Changing this law is not a silver bullet to improve student achievement, but more time in school as well as better teacher development and support, both tied to the calendar, can make a significant difference.
And showing some level of basic respect for local districts would be a signal the General Assembly understands it has better things to focus its time on than managing the business of others. We should stop this annual debate, put our attention toward other important school matters and end this ridiculous law that gives the majority of school districts flexibility, but holds it back from the rest for highly suspect reasons. This groundhog needs to be put to bed for good. If it is good for the majority of school districts in Virginia, it should be good for all of them.
- Councilman Rob Krupicka
The writer is a member of the Alexandria City Council and a governor appointed member of the Virginia Board of Education.