Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

Turning the Page on School Calendars

A couple of items to note about the recently-approved 2015-2016 ACPS traditional academic calendar and the modified calendar for Samuel Tucker Elementary:

  • All schools will be closed for students on Election Day, November 3, a change from past practice. Because city-wide elections will be held that day, voter turn-out is expected to be slightly higher than some years, even though not as high as for a Presidential election. And though not all schools are used as polling stations, there were some security lapses last November at polling-station schools that were serious enough to warrant closing all schools.
  • Once again, students will enjoy a full two-week winter break, December 21 through January 1.
  • The flip side of the long winter break is that the last day of school is not until June 24.

Which leads to the question that many parents have: Why don’t we start school before Labor Day? Because of Virginia’s so-called “Kings Dominion Law,” which, in order to boost travel and tourism spending in the state, prohibits local school divisions from beginning classes before Labor Day.* A provision in the code allows the state Board of Education to grant waivers to school divisions for “good cause,” and about 80 out of the state’s 132 school divisions receive such waivers.

2015-balloonsClosing school a lot for snow can get you a waiver, which is the most common cause. Prince William County and Loudon County will both start before Labor Day next year because of their snow-day track records. A school division might also be granted one for an experimental or innovative program, such as a year-round school, which is how Tucker Elementary is able to start earlier. You can also receive a waiver if your school division is surrounded by another division that has a waiver. That’s how the city of Manassas will be able to start school earlier next year.

A few years ago, Alexandria City Public Schools applied for a waiver to begin school before Labor Day on the premise that it would improve academic outcomes—teachers would have more time to prepare students before SOLs and Advanced Placement exams (which are given nationwide on the same date)—but the request was denied by the State Board of Education. The rumor at the time was that Fairfax County was watching closely with an eye toward preparing a waiver request of its own. Perhaps Fairfax will try the weather option instead. In any event, with 60% of school divisions across the state now qualifying for an exception, it’s clearly time for our General Assembly to stand up to the business lobby, repeal this outmoded law and allow local officials to choose the school calendar that best serves their student populations.

*22.1-79.1 of the Code of Virginia

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Coming Up
Families are invited to the 2015 Summer Camp Fair sponsored by the Alexandria PTA Council on Wednesday, February 18, from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. in the cafeteria of T.C. Williams High School. Admission and parking are free. Pizza will be available for purchase. Printed directories will be available, featuring all camps in attendance and several others. More than 60 exhibitors will represent a wide range of day and overnight camps, for children from Pre-K through high school, offering opportunities in art, academics, adventure, theatre, engineering, history, music, sports, special needs, and more. For more information, email alexandriaptaccampfair@gmail.com. View last year’s directory here.

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Worth Reading
Once again, Kiplinger’s Janet Bodnar shares some common-sense advice for parents, this time about credit cards for teens.

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