School calendar shift


Image, created by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), reflects data from the 2018-2019 school year. An updated version has not yet been published.

Since the 1980s, Virginia schools have opened after Labor Day because of a law nicknamed the “Kings Dominion Law.”  This law has nothing to do with improving education outcomes; rather, it was designed for the benefit of the tourism industry by extending the time teens could visit amusement parks such as Kings Dominion before school began. The law was named after the theme park  in Richmond, one of the attractions that benefits from the legislation. This year, Arlington students started school on September 3, later than 77 percent of school districts across the country, according to Pew Research Center. 

While corporations may enjoy the adjusted calendar, teachers and students are negatively impacted. School schedules shift later into June to accommodate the late start time, but national standardized tests have national schedules. This means that Virginia students have less time to prepare to compete with students across the country for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. In July of this year, Virginia finally recognized the flaws in this law and will now allow individual counties to begin their school year earlier than Labor Day without a waiver. To date, with next year’s calendar unpublished, Arlington has not taken this important step. It is imperative to students’ education that they do. 

It is not only students’ school work that suffers due to a later starting time. Summer programs such as camps, work and volunteer opportunities meant for high school students often start in early to mid June, meaning Arlington students miss out on leadership or enrichment opportunities because of a flawed calendar. 

In 2015, some legislation was proposed in Arizona forcing schools to start later in the year, citing hot weather and increased energy costs to maintain air conditioning. However, no real evidence that school districts save money by starting later was presented and the claim continues to be unsupported. According to Atlanta Public Schools, school buildings remain occupied all year, filled with programs and staff, so opening early would present little to no additional costs in spending. If no evidence can support the claim, then it can be assumed that the county districts in Virginia would not suffer financially from significantly increased charges.

Other counties in Virginia have realized the issues that come with starting after Labor Day and already made the move toward an earlier calendar. For the last two years, Fairfax County has received an exception from the Kings Dominion Law because of an excessive number of snow days, which it has utilized to start school on August 26 and end on June 12. 

Governor Ralph Northam has come to a similar understanding and signed several bills into law that allow Virginia schools to start up to two weeks before Labor Day. The law went into effect on July 1 of this year and requires counties to include a four day Labor Day weekend in exchange for starting later. 

From the first moment school starts, students and staff are already at a disadvantage. The governor has created an opportunity for counties across Virginia to right this wrong. Arlington County Public Schools must change the calendar to benefit students and teachers, not corporations.