The lures of summer vacation and spring fever have entered a continuing debate in the General Assembly over whether all public schools should have to wait until after Labor Day to open to give a boost to Virginia's tourism industry.

In approving the mandated post-Labor Day opening by an 8-to-7 vote yesterday, the Senate Education and Health Committee rejected arguments from representatives of the Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers of Virginia that such decisions should be left to local school boards.

State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Springfield) said that his wife, a high school guidance counselor, has told him that absenteeism is horrible the first week of school if it falls before Labor Day.

But state Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Fredericksburg) argued that absenteeism increases toward the end of the school year as summer approaches. "Spring fever is spring fever," he said. Houck called the bill "special interest legislation at its finest" and said it would benefit only one or two industries in the state, apparently referring to tourism.

"I have kids {in my district} who want to work on farms," he added, saying that an earlier end to the school year would benefit them.

The House has approved the bill, which would make permanent a two-year experiment.