Survey to gauge interest in pre-Labor Day school start

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, August 15, 2019

Suffolk Public Schools wants to know whether it should consider starting school before Labor Day.

To that end, it has initiated a survey designed to gauge the public’s interest in an earlier start date, since the General Assembly passed legislation that allows school divisions to start the school year up to 14 days before the September Labor Day holiday.

Any potential change will not impact the current 2019-2020 school year calendar. The first day of school this year is Sept. 3.


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Previously, school divisions had to apply for a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education, which is no longer required under the new law. School divisions still must meet the state’s minimum requirement of 180 school days.

“The purpose of the survey is to learn more about the perceptions our Suffolk stakeholders have regarding this change and when they feel the school year should start,” according to the introduction of the survey.

Surveys will be anonymous unless one chooses to leave personally identifiable information in open-ended comments.

Interim Superintendent Dr. LaToya Harrison said during a recent School Board meeting that calendar discussions for the following school year would begin in September. The board will likely discuss the results of the survey at its Sept. 12 meeting.

Board Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said there should be a non-electronic option for those who want to take the survey offline in order to be more inclusive of everyone in the community.

Harrison noted that school divisions across the Tidewater region meet annually to discuss syncing calendars as much as possible, and would likely have another meeting this fall.

“We have staff who may live in other places, who have children in other school divisions and just out of consideration for that and just trying to make sure that we are somewhat consistent,” Harrison said.

Brooks-Buck said there are regional programs that need to be considered when considering calendar changes.

Board member Sherri Story asked what other school divisions in the region are considering an earlier start date. Harrison said she had not heard back from all of the region’s school divisions on whether they are considering changing their calendars.

“Whatever we do, community input is important,” said board member Lorita Mayo. “And for a major change like this, all stakeholders should be involved.”

Brooks-Buck noted that while she wants to have everyone included in the survey, the last survey the school division did regarding the superintendent search, there were about 750 responses out of about 14,500 sets of parents.

“We need to open it as wide as we can and hope to get some results,” Brooks-Buck said about the survey, “but when we get results, then those results are less than one-half of one percent of the population, we cannot then go on and suggest that that’s what everybody wants. So, I think we need to be careful with whatever we do.”

The questions on the survey include:

  • What affiliation the survey-taker has to Suffolk Public Schools — a parent of a current SPS student, an SPS staff member, a community member or none of the above.
  • Whether the school division should consider a pre-Labor Day start.
  • If “yes,” then the survey will ask how early the division should start school, with the choices being 1-5 days, 5-10 days or 10-14 days before Labor Day. It will then allow an optional comment of up to 500 characters to provide open-ended thoughts.

If the survey-taker answers no to the question about whether to start school prior to Labor Day, it will allow for up to 500 characters to comment on why.

The deadline to complete the survey is Aug. 31. The link to the survey can be found at The survey is also available at the School Administrative Offices at 100 N. Main St.

In other school division news, the School Board will hold a special meeting at 8:45 a.m. Aug. 22 at the School Administrative Offices to set a second, 15-day window for conducting superintendent candidate interviews.

The current interview window to interview candidates to replace the retiring Dr. Deran Whitney runs through Aug. 28.