Some Hampton Roads schools may start before Labor Day to address COVID-19 learning loss

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YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) — The traditional post-Labor Day start for school systems in Hampton Roads could come to a halt this fall.

Several school districts on the Virginia Peninsula, including Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg-James City County and York County, have presented their school boards with an option that would start the 2021-2022 school year on Aug. 30, the Monday before Labor Day.

While the ideas behind the proposal vary, one constant that stands out is that the extra week could help students make up lost learning time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The idea, which was born out of discussions among the multiple districts on the Peninsula that often coordinate on their school calendars, was one that couldn’t even be considered two years ago.

Under state law, the annual division calendar must establish a minimum of 180 instructional days or 990 hours.

For decades, schools in Virginia had to get a special waiver from the Virginia Department of Education to open before Labor Day. None of those districts were ever in Hampton Roads, where the tourism industry said the move could have a detrimental economic impact.

In 2019, the General Assembly rescinded the law that required a special waiver. Now, individual school boards can decide to hold classes up to 14 days ahead of Labor Day, as long as there are no classes the Friday of Labor Day weekend.

Monday night, York County School Division Superintendent Victor Shandor shared his support for breaking with the longtime Tuesday-after-Labor-Day start.

“My interest in this is completely focused on what’s best for our kids obviously,” Shandor said, referencing that school districts in more western parts of the state have been starting weeks ahead of Labor Day for several years. “When you think about some of your AP exams, IB assessments etc., those kids are already in school for a month where our kids aren’t.”

Shandor also pointed to the need to help teachers adjust to a more regular school year, following the one rocked by the pandemic.

“It will also give our teachers an opportunity to conduct all those assessments, especially coming off of this year with the hybrid flexible framework and the virtual and those types of things, to really get in there and provide the teachers some time to sift through that data to prepare that instruction that next week,” Shandor said.

Similar arguments were raised last month in Newport News, where an assistant to the superintendent highlighted that starting ahead of Labor Day would allow for professional development days throughout the school year.

Another factor that appears to be influencing districts’ decision-making is the fact that in 2021, the traditional Tuesday after Labor Day is the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. 

The Virginia Beach School Board came under heavy criticism last February after it originally voted to approve a 2021-2022 calendar that would start school on Sept. 7. It suspended its decision and has yet to make another.

Most districts are looking for family input before moving forward with a final decision. You can be taken to online surveys by clicking on your school district below.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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