Monarch on a Mission: The School Schedule Questionnaire

Labor Day-

The very name of the holiday brings to mind memories of barbecues, pools, and those last savored bits of summer before the school year begins. For several decades, Labor Day has been the de facto starting mark for public school systems across the country, but now (in Newport News, at least) that could all change.

Since 1986, Virginia public school systems have been legally required to start the academic year on the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend. This legislation, which goes by the tongue-in-cheek moniker “Kings Dominion Law,” was put in place solely to protect tourism revenue across the state. With schools starting after Labor Day, local businesses and tourist industries were able to capitalize on the holiday weekend rush, making money off of everyone on vacation trying to squeeze the most out of their last days of summer. In the decades since this legislation was passed, some school systems have only been able to opt out of the September start through approved exemptions, usually citing a need for more inclement weather days. This year, however, the Virginia General Assembly officially struck down the Kings Dominion Law, giving all school systems the opportunity to start at an earlier date.

Newport News, unlike many school systems in Northern Virginia, never tried to annually adjust school start dates using the exemption process. Why were some VA school districts seeking exemptions for an earlier start date every year? Well, the answer doesn’t all come down to weather.

Starting the school year in August adjusts the schedule so that first semester falls entirely before winter break, and second semester after. This allows students to take exams after a straight eighteen weeks of school, as opposed to the current system of taking two weeks off for winter break, then coming back and having a week or two to cram in teaching and reviewing material for semester exams. “Taking a break before the end of a semester is detrimental to our exam grades,” commented junior Nike Lin. “Having winter break after exams just makes more sense.”

In schools with AP curriculums, this schedule gives classes more instructional time before the AP exams in May, which ensures that students actually get through all the required material before testing. Allowing ample school time to prepare before the traditional school year start, as is the case in many high-scoring districts, leads to better AP scores and well-prepared students.

With the adjusted schedule, there are also fewer weeks of school after the height of SOL and AP testing. Every year these weeks after testing are spent doing relatively nothing- AP courses turn into movie-viewing classes, and it is a struggle to get students, particularly upperclassmen, to come to school. An earlier start to the school year makes sure that students do not have so many unproductive class periods between end-of-course tests in May and the end of the school year in mid-June.

The advantages of an earlier start to school are not only academic, though. Starting the school year before Labor Day pads the schedule with extra in-class time, which comes in handy in case of weather emergencies. Currently, Menchville has only one official “snow day” built into the schedule, and a little extra seat-time allows the school system to miss about two days of school before starting makeup plans. Most of Menchville’s current students, however, are more than familiar with bad weather ruining the schedule. Two years ago, winter exams were cancelled after missing so much school during the Snowmageddon of January 2018. Last year, school days dragged on for an extra 15 minutes as result of the week-long cancellation for Hurricane Florence. Even this far into the 2019-2020 school year, Newport News public schools have already cancelled one day of school for storms. Finding make-up days is always a hassle, and in an area where weather can change on a dime, an earlier start to school could prevent some of the scheduling trouble.

As the school start date hangs in the balance, we had one question for Monarchs- do you think school should start before Labor Day?

Laura Madler
A majority of students still support the Labor Day start date.

Approximately 63% of students who responded to the survey said that they would not support an earlier start date. Many cited the same justification, which was a desire for the same summer break. Though summer break would remain the same length (starting earlier in June), some students believe that the summer holiday should stay where it is in the schedule. Participants who did agree with the proposed schedule change (approximately 37%) appreciated the extra instruction time before AP testing, as well as the opportunity to finish first semester before winter break. A teacher who responded agreed that an earlier start would be beneficial, but posited that teachers ought to be reimbursed for a shorter summer break during the transition between regular schedule and adjusted.

As NNPS said in their survey, there are several factors involving the lives of students, staff, and parents that need to be considered before making a permanent schedule decision. Summer jobs, sports, transportation, and curriculum timing all need to be weighed in equal measure to make a wise choice for the district. One thing is for certain, though, students agree that education, not tourism, should be the decision-maker in school scheduling.