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Bill could ease pre-Labor Day schooling

RICHMOND – It soon might be a bit easier for public school districts to get state permission to start classes before Labor Day.

The Senate joined the House last week in unanimously approving House Bill 557, sponsored by Delegate Robert Tata, R-Virginia Beach. It may ease the process for a local school board to get a waiver from the Virginia Board of Education to begin the school year before Labor Day.

Currently, a school system can get a waiver only “on a showing of good cause” that it:

“Has been closed an average of eight days per year during any five of the last 10 years because of severe weather conditions, energy shortages, power failures, or other emergency situations.”

Is providing an experimental or innovative program that requires schools to open earlier.

Is providing instructional programs in cooperation with another school system that received permission to start classes before Labor Day.

Under HB 557, instead of a “showing of good cause,” the local school board can just certify that it meets one of the criteria.

After approval by both legislative chambers, HB 557 has been sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell for his signature.

Both chambers also passed an identical measure — Senate Bill 253, sponsored by Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Martinsville. The House voted 93-5 in favor of that bill last week and sent it to McDonnell.

Reynolds also sponsored SB 77, which says that a waiver to start classes before Labor Day would apply to an entire school district, not just individual schools.

That bill passed the Senate on a 31-9 vote in February and was sent to the House. It now appears dead for the session. On Thursday, a subcommittee of the House Education Committee voted to table SB 77.

Many school officials and teachers want the option of offering classes before Labor Day. They say that if Virginia students started classes earlier, they would do better on national tests later in the academic year.

Gov. Bob McDonnell and tourism officials say starting classes before Labor Day would hurt Virginia’s tourism industry and tax revenues.