LAWMAKERS IN Virginia and Maryland seem to be headed toward freeing local school systems of the restriction that they not start classes until after Labor Day. We hope they succeed. It never made sense for politicians in Richmond and Annapolis to be dictating school calendars. Their interference caused unnecessary logistical and, more critically, academic problems.
A 1986 law known familiarly as the “Kings Dominion law” prevents schools in Virginia from opening before Labor Day unless they obtain a special waiver. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2016 issued an executive order forcing school districts to start classes after Labor Day and finish by June 15. Mr. Hogan made his announcement in Ocean City, a selection that, much like the name of the amusement park that drove Virginia’s law, underscored that what was being served was state tourism and not the educational needs of students.
School systems struggled to meet the artificial limits of a post-Labor Day opening day. Spring break was curtailed, teacher planning days were eliminated, and planned snow days became not a backstop but a gamble. Principals and teachers complained that students were put at an academic disadvantage because there was less instruction time before Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, which are not scheduled by local authorities. Most hurt were poor and minority students for whom summer can be not an idyllic time of days at the beach or riding Ferris wheels but empty days of idleness and going hungry. Children need more time in school, not less, and a calendar built on the long-gone days when children needed to be out of school during the summer to help on the family farm makes no sense in today’s increasingly competitive world economy.
Legislation giving local school boards more flexibility to decide when classes should be held has advanced in the Maryland and Virginia general assemblies, and supporters are cautiously optimistic. Mr. Hogan unfortunately doesn’t seem willing to let go of the issue, vowing to take the matter to a statewide referendum. Doing so ignores a common-sense truth that was best summed up by the chairwoman of the Fairfax County School Board. “The more flexibility they give to local jurisdictions, the better,” said Karen Corbett Sanders. “We are, of course, closer to our community and understand what our community expects from us.”