Changes to school start dates, student homelessness discussed at School Board meeting

Staff writer

A bill before the Virginia General Assembly that would affect school calendars, if passed, and the scope of the local homeless student population formed the major points of discussion during Tuesday’s meeting of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board.

Discussion of the proposed school calendars for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years was dominated by the possible impact of Senate Bill 1005.

The bill, if it passes, would allow school districts to set their start dates up to 14 days before Labor Day without a waiver from the state, as long as they are closed on both Labor Day and the preceding Friday.

During the 2018 General Assembly session, the House of Delegates passed a version of the bill, but a Senate committee voted to push off consideration until this year. The bill would effectively eliminate the so-called "Kings Dominion law," which has forced school districts in the Eastern half of Virginia to a post-Labor Day start date since the 1980s.

There was considerable optimism among board members about the bill, noting there is much more traction behind it than there has ever been. Superintendent Olwen Herron noted that given the number of school days affected by inclement weather, an earlier start date would be invaluable in the future.

“If it passes, it may be too late to implement next year, but it absolutely needs to be on the table for the 2020-21 school year,” Herron said. “The sooner we know, the better, and if we need to discuss it in the future, we will.”

Later in the meeting, another discussion was sparked during proposed policy revisions about the admission of homeless students.

According to vice chairwoman Julie Hummel, about 400 homeless students attend W-JCC schools over the course of the school year.

“Before I was on the School Board, I had no idea the extent of the problem,” Hummel said. “My hat goes off to all the people in the schools handling this, providing access to a continuing education for our most vulnerable population.”

Board member Sandra Young said the county and proposed education budget needed to look into the full cost to the district.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the W-JCC School Board is 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Stryker Center, 412 N. Boundary St.

Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.

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