This year it's back to an early start to the school year for Loudoun County students.

More than 47,000 students return to classes tomorrow -- a week earlier than their comrades in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties and most other Virginia school districts.

A state law actually requires schools to start after Labor Day. Loudoun, however, usually qualifies for a waiver that allows an earlier start under a formula based on the number of snow days in a district over the previous decade.

Last year, for the first time in a generation, Loudoun didn't get the waiver, meaning that students had an extra week of freedom and that school started the Tuesday after Labor Day.

But heavy snow in recent years put Loudoun back over the top this year, and the School Board voted to take advantage of it and start school in August again.

Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III has argued for years that the early start is better for instruction. The issue has traditionally split the School Board, but this year, several members who had argued that starting later would help vacationing families said they changed their minds after seeing the later start in action.

School Board Chairman John A. Andrews II (Potomac) said he had always thought more students would show up on the first day of school if it were held after Labor Day and last-minute family trips. But he said absenteeism on the first day last year was about the same as in previous years.

"From the attendance point of view, there just wasn't any difference," he said.

Andrews said he had heard no objections from parents to the earlier start.

Loudoun joins Fauquier and many Maryland districts that are starting school tomorrow. The Virginia Labor Day rule is known informally in education circles as the "King's Dominion Law" because lobbyists for the amusement park oppose attempts to change it for fear that an earlier start could cut into lucrative Labor Day weekend trips to the theme park.

For students, the later start means back to routine and early mornings a bit earlier -- and, said Garrett McDonnell, 13, less time to finish summer reading.

McDonnell, who is going into eighth grade at Harmony Intermediate School, said he was looking forward to returning to class but could have used a few extra days.

"It feels like you have a little more time to prepare for the year," he said.

For his mother, Vivian, however, the day couldn't come soon enough.

"I like school," she said. "Spoken like a true mom, right?"