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Shorten school year?

RICHMOND – After four major snowstorms and many school cancellations, Virginia legislators are discussing a statewide proposal to shorten the school year – so students don’t have to make up so many missed classes.

Delegates from two of Virginia’s biggest school districts – Robert Tata of Virginia Beach and Scott A. Surovell of Fairfax County – are considering the issue at the legislative level.

Tata, a Republican who chairs the House Education Committee and serves on the Appropriations Committee, also met with Gov. Bob McDonnell’s staff this past week to discuss the matter.

Surovell, a Democratic from Mount Vernon, said the idea is very preliminary.

“Nothing has been proposed,” he said. “We are just talking about what our options are.”

The idea of shortening the school year began after a school superintendent contacted Surovell. The superintendent was worried about scheduling all of the extra class days need to make up for school cancellations.

“A lot of school systems will be looking at the kids going to school in July because of snow days,” Surovell said.

The Virginia Board of Education requires every school division to have at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours. Schools that miss five or more days because of severe weather conditions or emergency situations must make up the missed days by adding days to the school calendar or extending the length of each school day.

Surovell believes making up the missed days could cause vacation conflicts and other problems for families.

“People make plans for the summer,” he said. “Having children in school in July could present problems for people.”

School boards can ask the Board of Education to waive the 180-day or 990-hour requirement, as long as they can “demonstrate and certify that every effort has been made to reschedule as many school days as possible.”

With many of Virginia’s schools struggling to make up the lost days, Surovell believes it might be more effective for the state to waive its requirements.

Virginia has 132 school districts with a total of almost 1.25 million students. The largest district is Fairfax County (with 172,000 students), followed by Prince William County (77,000) and Virginia Beach (71,000).