The General Assembly has approved a bill that chips away at the so-called Kings Dominion law requiring school districts to open after Labor Day.

The bill, which passed 81–15 in the House of Delegates and 26–14 in the Senate, permits local school boards to start the school year as early as two weeks before Labor Day. It just needs the governor’s signature to become law.

With Labor Day falling on Sept. 2 this year, schools can start as early as Aug. 19, but not before, according to the bill.

However, those divisions that obtained waivers for an early start this year may continue to start school earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.

The legislation states that schools must close again the Friday before Labor Day and remain closed through the Monday holiday, giving students a four-day weekend.

The bill also eliminates most of the options school boards have used in the past to obtain waivers for the post-Labor Day start date.

With the exception of Fredericksburg and Stafford County schools, all divisions in Planning District 16—which includes Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline counties—have obtained waivers based on the fact that they have been closed an average of eight days a year for five of the past 10 years because of severe weather.

That option is no longer available under the new legislation.

Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George have waivers for this school year that allowed them to open in early August, but the new bill could affect when Stafford and Fredericksburg schools can open.

The Stafford School Board approved a start date of Aug. 12 for the 2019–20 school year, but the division does not have a waiver for this year, Superintendent Scott Kizner said.

“We have to submit a waiver when the state allows us for next year. That usually occurs over the summer,” Kizner said. “However, this new bill can change this. That is what we are trying to get clarification on from our General Assembly members.”

The Fredericksburg School Board voted in November to ask the General Assembly for a waiver allowing school to start Aug. 12 or 19 this fall.

At the time, Superintendent David Melton told board members that he expected the state to approve the waiver because all the surrounding school systems will be starting classes before Labor Day next year.

But late last year, the Fredericksburg school division learned it would not qualify for a waiver due to the way the legislation was written. Instead of being “entirely surrounded by a school division that has an opening date prior to Labor Day,” it is surrounded by two school divisions with the early opening date.

That requirement has been removed in the new bill.

If city schools open Aug. 19, it will still be one week later than surrounding divisions. Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline students will return to school on Aug. 12.

Del. Bob Thomas, whose 28th District includes parts of Fredericksburg and Stafford, said Thursday that a separate bill he introduced on the subject is still alive and “would fix Fredericksburg and Stafford.”

The bill, HB2140—which Thomas said went into conference Thursday—states that if school divisions would have qualified for a waiver under the old law and are surrounded by counties that already have an early start date, those divisions may follow suit.

“It’s kind of a ‘Hail Mary,’” Thomas said, but added that he has some confidence his bill will pass.

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Adele Uphaus-Conner: 540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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