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Halifax superintendent: Assembly wrong to dictate to local school boards

Halifax County School Superintendent Paul Stapleton isn’t happy with Thursday’s vote by the Senate Education and Health Committee that killed a bill that would’ve allowed local schools to open before Labor Day.

Stapleton said he believes the General Assembly is wrong in trying to dictate to local school boards.

“I think it was probably a mistake. It is up to local school boards to determine school calendars and always has been,” he added.

The Senate Education and Health Committee killed the bill Thursday on a 9-6 vote after tourist attractions spoke against it along with lobbyists for vacation resorts, amusement parks, beach towns and historical sites.

Representatives from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce also spoke against it.

Earlier this month, Gov. Bob McDonnell had asked the legislature to repeal a requirement that school divisions start school after Labor Day unless they have a waiver from the Board of Education.

The request, part of an effort to reduce mandates on local school divisions, was unveiled in the governor’s 2012 legislative and budget actions supporting his administration’s ongoing “Opportunity to Learn” K-12 education agenda.

McDonnell had proposed repealing Virginia’s so-called “Kings Dominion law,” which prohibits public schools from opening before Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the state.

Such waivers have become commonplace: Of the 132 school districts in Virginia, 77 of them received a waiver for this school year.

The Republican governor acknowledged that repealing the Kings Dominion law would have a dramatic impact on the tourism industry.

That industry – including theme parks such as Kings Dominion in Hanover County – traditionally has sought to prevent schools from opening before Labor Day.

However, local officials like Stapleton say they should have the authority to set their school calendars as they see fit.

“It is just competing interests between travel and entertainment agencies. Which is more important to the school board, which is more educationally important?” Stapleton said.

Beginning school in early September instead of late August puts students at a disadvantage because they don’t have as much time to prepare for standardized national tests, according to the Virginia School Boards Association.

That group supported repealing the Kings Dominion law.

“I do agree with what the governor was trying to do, and I believe this will come up again,” the county school superintendent said.

Legislators have filed eight bills to address the issue.

A House version is still alive.