Majority favor post-Labor Day start

Published 7:52 pm Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A majority of the more than 5,000 residents who completed a Suffolk Public Schools survey about when to begin the school year favored a post-Labor Day start.

Overall, 56 percent of the 5,188 who answered the survey favored starting school after Labor Day, while just 39 percent want to see school start before then.

This year, Suffolk Public Schools started Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, with graduation on June 6, 2020 and the last day of school June 12, 2020. Previously, Virginia school divisions had to apply for a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education, which the new law no longer requires. School divisions still must meet the 180-school day minimum.

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 would not impact the current school year calendar.

Interim Superintendent Dr. LaToya Harrison said that school divisions across the Tidewater region meet annually to discuss syncing calendars as they are able and would likely have another meeting this fall.

The School Board will discuss the survey results at its regular Thursday meeting at City Hall.

Support for the post-Labor Day start was strongest among parents and SPS staff, with 58 percent of the 2,796 parents and 56 percent of the 1,507 staff members completing the survey supporting the start after the holiday.

Among the 600 people classified as community members, the survey showed a near even split, with 50 percent supporting the status quo and 47 percent wanting an earlier start to the school year.

Among those who favored an earlier start, there did not appear to be a consensus on how early. About 31 percent favored a start 10 to 14 days before Labor Day, and 26 percent supported a start 5 to 10 days early.

Parents favoring a pre-Labor Day start cited a number of reasons to begin the school year earlier — from academic reasons to aligning the school division with others around the country who start before Labor Day and even using the earlier start as precursor to year-round school.

The parents who did not support the change cited reasons such as the hotter weather and increased air conditioning use in schools, the interruption of family vacations and not enough time off in the summer, child care and other Hampton Roads school divisions not being aligned with an earlier start, the effect on military families, and “don’t fix what’s not broke.”

Staff members who favored a pre-Labor Day start to the school year cited academics, boredom among students after Memorial Day, having the first semester finish before the end of December, and Advanced Placement teachers who said students in other districts get extra instruction because they start earlier but yet the testing day is the same for everyone.

Staff who did not favor an early school year start said they liked having a longer summer break, and that it would interfere with family vacation time. Others were fine with the calendar as is.

Among all the groups surveyed, there were some who, though they voted in favor of a post-Labor Day start to the school year, said they wanted to know more details behind an earlier start, such as if the school year would end in May.

Besides discussion of the school year calendar, the School Board will discuss rezoning, a bring-your-own-device policy and other items that were held over from its vision planning meeting this summer. During the regular meeting, the board is set to adopt a new capital improvement plan for 2021 to 2030, as well as take up more than a dozen ordinances, several of those directly related to the board itself.

The complete agenda, which includes a link to the complete survey results, can be found at pesb.spsk12.net and clicking on Sept. 12 on the calendar. The work session begins at 5 p.m., and the regular meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.