Fredericksburg's School Board plans to reach out to Del. Bob Thomas, R-Stafford, to change the Virginia State Code so the school division can start class before Labor Day.
The way the state code is written, a school system can start before Labor Day if it is “entirely surrounded by a school division with a pre-Labor Day opening.” Fredericksburg, however, is surrounded not by one school division, but two. Spotsylvania County schools started before Labor Day this year, and Stafford County schools will do the same in 2019.
Superintendent David Melton said that Thomas has drafted legislation to change the wording so that it says that a school division qualifies if it is surrounded by one or more divisions with a pre-Labor Day start, but Thomas needs a request from the School Board to introduce it in the General Assembly. Melton said that he's also gotten calls from other superintendents as well as city officials voicing support for the change.
"The superintendents are saying, 'What can we do to help?' It's ridiculous," he said.
Board members approved Melton's recommendation on a 5–1 vote at its meeting Monday with Board Chairman Malvina Kay voting against it. Kay was also the sole vote against changing the start of the school year at the board's Nov. 5 meeting. At the time, she said that she wasn't sure how an earlier start would benefit students.
Fredericksburg school officials have been eyeing a switch to an earlier start since Spotsylvania and Stafford counties announced that they planned to start classes in August. School officials are mainly concerned about their ability to attract and retain teachers.
Currently, city schools end classes in June while other school systems in the region—including those of Caroline, Culpeper and King George counties—end in May. That means city school administrators can’t start hiring until a month after their counterparts in surrounding school systems because they might not know which positions might be vacant.
In addition, about 70 percent of the Fredericksburg school system’s total staff doesn’t live in the city, and a number of teachers have school-age children. They might want to leave for a school system with the same start time as their sons and daughters.
Under the so-called Kings Dominion law, school districts are required to start after Labor Day unless they qualify for a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education, and 43 of the state's 132 school divisions don’t qualify.
The House passed two bills in February that would give local school boards the power to decide when their school year starts. The bills were forwarded to the Senate, which combined them and then postponed consideration until 2019.
In other business, the board received drafts of two proposed calendars for the 2019–2020 school year. One is for a school year that starts before Labor Day and the other starts after the holiday.
Kay asked when the board would have to make a decision, adding that it might be better to wait for a pre-Labor Day start until 2020 because some parents might have made summer vacation plans already.
"We're in 100 percent agreement if we don't get an answer from the legislature before March," Melton said. "In the meantime, we want to be prepared."