But Virginia places strict limits on how school systems choose start dates, and Loudoun hasn’t been allowed to start this early since 2005.
Under an unusual and oft-challenged law, school systems can’t open before Labor Day unless they qualify for a waiver, usually based on the number of snow-related closures during the previous decade.
In recent years, a string of mild winters kept Loudoun from qualifying for an early start. But then came Snowpocalypse and Snowmaggeddon, blizzards that buried Washington under record-setting drifts in the winter of 2009-10 and kept children out of school for days on end.
Those snow days pushed Loudoun over the threshold, giving the 63,000-student system the opportunity to determine its schedule. The School Board voted unanimously in October to start classes one week before Labor Day.
“We believe that school boards, who represent their communities, should be empowered to make this fundamental decision about scheduling with any eye toward what suits the community,” Hatrick wrote in an e-mail. In Loudoun, he said, “students are ready to return to school by the end of August.”
Standing in the way of local autonomy is the Labor Day law. Often called the “Kings Dominion law,” it was passed in 1986 to protect the tourism industry — including the Kings Dominion theme park — from losing late-summer customers.
Over the years, legislators have tinkered with the law. This year, the General Assembly loosened it to enable waivers to be granted for certain school systems surrounded by those that routinely start early — such as Roanoke, enveloped by Roanoke County.
But tourism industry lobbyists and sympathetic lawmakers have beaten back efforts to repeal the law. The Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association calls preservation of the law one of its “2011 legislative accomplishments.”
Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said sending students back to school early would cut into Labor Day weekend’s substantial sales tax revenue, and he hasn’t heard a compelling argument for giving up those dollars.
“I’d like to have a better reason than someone looking me straight in the face and saying, ‘We should be able to if we want to,’ ” he said.
Loudoun officials argued that starting in August would give students more time to learn what they need to know for Advanced Placement and state Standards of Learning exams, which are generally administered in May or June.
“The more we can do to prepare our kids in advance of those tests, the better off they’ll be,” said School Board Chairman John Stevens (Potomac).