Virginia Senator-elect Adam Ebbin (D) is wasting no time, preparing to tackle a very sensitive topic for those of us in Virginia’s schools: The 1980’s-era Code of Virginia § 22.1-79.1., which forbids schools from starting classes before Labor Day. While some jurisdictions have successfully applied for waivers, it’s very rare. In fact, Alexandria (just around the corner from my current home and employer of Arlington) threw in the towel last year when it became painfully clear that the VDOE had no intention of granting a waiver to any school division, let alone one within reasonable driving distance of King’s Dominion.
Yes, I said King’s Dominion, the amusement park in Doswell, just down I-95, originally built by Paramount. You know. The party that should decide when schools in Virginia should begin teaching children. Who better to decide?
The “King’s Dominon Law,” as that section code is known, is designed to prevent public schools from opening in late summer and cutting into profits. You heard that right, and the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association makes no bones about it. They’re quite public about their position that it’s about preventing loss of profit.
It is daft that citizens would allow the hospitality industry lobby to dictate public school policy. Currently the VDOE Standards of Learning tests, our end-of-course minimum-competency examinations, are largely administered in May. Wouldn’t it make sense for the culminating exam period to come at the culmination of the course? Well since we can’t start until Labor Day, and we have to be in session 180 days by law, the entire calendar is off, leaving June a wasteland of wasted instructional time. It doesn’t make sense pedagogically (which many teachers loathe), it allows non-educators to deny education professionals the ability to determine what’s best in our field (which drives we academic liberals insane), it stifles innovation and restricts local jurisdictions (at which small government conservatives should be furious), and it’s not good for kids (which parents should despise).
However, Katie Hellbbush, director of government affairs for the hotel lobby, has no problem talking about academic achievement like she has any business in the world discussing education policy or academic achievement from her vantage point as a non-educator. Thanks for sharing, Katie, but wouldn’t you tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about if I made a statement about your industry in a vacuum without citing any data?
The truth of the matter is that we have no contemporary data with which to judge whether or not we will see a rise in academic performance, thanks to the law. However there are real pedagogical, curricular, and assessment benefits that are common conventions of wisdom among professional educators, and we should allow local jurisdictions to make their own decisions for their own communities as to the pros and cons.
Senator-elect Ebbin, who is already a ground-breaking politician in Virginia, deserves credit for taking up this cause. It’s not the first time the law has been eroded, but this would be a full-blown repeal if it triumphs. If you believe local governments should be able to make their own decisions about their schools – whether it’s to keep the after-Labor-Day rule or eliminate it entirely – contact your state elected officials and ask them to support Ebbin’s efforts. It’s not appropriate for the hospitality industry to fluff the pillows of donors while drawing the curtains shut on student learning. (Sorry, best hotel gag I could come up with on a lunch break.)
Stick to hospitality, King’s Dominion. Leave the education policy to the local education agencies. But since turnabout is fair play, here’s a suggestion from a non-tourism-industry amateur. Couldn’t we find a way to open amusement parks during June if we end school in early June instead of late June? Sure, there’s all the gorgeous June weather to endure, and that awful June feeling of freedom not to mention the challenge of that frustrating June desire for summertime outdoor entertainment with friends and family in June… but there’s gotta be a way to spin June to an amusement park’s advantage… hmm…
If only I had more expertise, I’m sure I could think of something.