The Virginia Senate sub-committee for public education passed SB 515, advancing a bill that gives local school divisions the power to determine when their school year begins.

As it stands, unless a school division has a waiver, the earliest its schools can open is 14 days before Labor Day. If passed, SB 515 will permit any school that has students attending the Northern Neck Technical Center in Warsaw to set their opening day earlier.

Richmond County Public Schools worked with Senator Ryan McDougle to get the bill drafted and on the legislative agenda. Last Thursday, RCPS superintendent Dr. James Smith went to Richmond to speak to the sub-committee on behalf the measure. He said it passed uncontested. 

Why schools want SB 515 

The local school divisions participate in a lot of regional programs, such the Northern Neck Tech Center, Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School, alternative school and special education programs, and they’re trying to get on the same page.

“Everyone was aiming for the same goals but everyone was doing something different,” said Smith. “For example, Essex was on an eight-period day schedule. Northumberland was on a four-by-four semester schedule, and Richmond County was on an alternate day schedule,” and those scheduling variations were limiting student’s access and success, he explained.

So, all of the schools that the Northern Neck Tech Center serves agreed to run on the same calendar schedule and operate on the four-by-four block schedule. “Getting all six school boards on the same page was no small task, said Smith. “But all of the regional partners stepped up and said if we’re going to serve children well, this is what we need to do.”

Now, for the plan to work as intended, the schools need to open earlier than the state currently allows. Virginia law requires schools to offer a four-day Labor Day weekend, and even if the school year starts 14 days before the holiday, that doesn’t allow enough time to complete a semester before Christmas break, which is crucial when operating a four-by-four block schedule.

If SB 515 passes, each year, the starting date for local schools will be determined by the Northern Neck Technical Center’s Board of Control, which is composed of representative from each partnering school division, not by state law. It’s already agreed that the the 2020 -2021 school year will start on August 17. 

 For the full article, pick up the latest Northern Neck News 2/6/20

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