Last week, the Fairfax County School Board approved an August start date for the next school year, marking the first time in decades that area schools will start before Labor Day.
That means school will also let out earlier next year on June 15. In past years, students have gone to class as late as June 25.
Outgoing FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said earlier this year the change is being made to provide more instructional time before winter break, provide enhanced flexibility to help students and school staff members meet college application deadlines and to end the school year earlier in June.
Additionally, some FCPS parents have said they are glad for the change because letting out earlier in June will afford their children better summer internship and enrichment opportunities.
However, many families have expressed dismay over the decision, citing a number of reasons:
‘Traditional’ summer vacation — In a poll issued to FCPS families prior to the school board’s vote, 84 percent of those against the earlier start date said they preferred a “traditional” summer vacation schedule, giving kids all of August off before starting school in September. Others said it made no sense to them to start school before Labor Day when right away in the second week of school, they have a day off to observe the Labor Day holiday. Sixty-four percent of families said the new schedule would disrupt long-held vacation plans.
Shortening of summer/temporary status of waiver — Twenty-eight percent of families against the earlier start date pointed out that the waiver from the state, allowing FCPS to start school before Labor Day — which has long been mandated via the 1986 “King’s Dominion Rule” — is temporary, only allowing the district to start school in August through the 2019-20 school year. Many parents said they did not support the earlier start date if it is going to be temporary, especially if they would have to switch back again in a few years once the waiver expired.
Others pointed out that, in the first year of implementation, their children are losing a week of summer vacation with the early start.
Hot temperatures in August — Many parents say they are worried about students being in hot, under-air-conditioned classrooms in summer temperatures that are often in the 90s.
What do you think of the new August start date? Vote in our poll and leave your comments below letting us know why you voted the way you did.
The Fairfax County School Board approved the calendar for the 2017-18 school year this week, with school starting on Monday, Aug. 28, and ending earlier than usual, on Friday, June 15.
Although the law in Virginia — called the “Kings Dominion Rule” — mandates that school should start after Labor Day, Fairfax County Public Schools applied for a waiver from the commonwealth. FCPS was informed in February that it could get the waiver until at least the 2019-20 school year because the district had canceled school an average of at least eight days per year in at least five of the past 10 years due to inclement weather.
In the 2013-14 school year, FCPS was forced to add three days to the end of the school year due to missing more than the maximum number of school days allowed, Washington Post reported.
Following that school year, discussions began about starting the instructional calendar earlier. This past spring, the district polled families to gauge their support for moving the first day of school into August.
Parents who participated in the survey were fairly evenly split, 52 to 47 percent, between those in favor of and those opposed to the earlier start date, respectively. More than 60 percent of responding FCPS staff said they favored the change.
Outgoing FCPS Superintendent Karan Garza had long advocated for the change as well.
“These changes are being made to provide more instructional time before winter break, enhanced flexibility to help students and school staff members meet college application deadlines, and to end the school year earlier in June,” FCPS officials said Thursday.
The 2017-18 school year will include a full two weeks off in winter, letting out Dec. 18, 2017 and resuming on Jan. 2, 2018.
The full 2017-18 calendar is on the district’s website.
Photo via Fairfax County Public Schools
The school board has elected Sandy Evans (Mason District) as chair and Jane Strauss (Dranesville District) as vice chair for a one-year term. The chair and vice chair assumed office at the July 14 School Board meeting; they are elected by School Board members during the Board’s annual organizational meeting.
This ends the one-year term of Hunter Mill rep Pat Hynes, who was elected as chair in July 2015.
Evans, who was elected to the School Board in March 2010, served as vice chair during the 2015-16 school year. She is the former chair of the School Board’s School Health Advisory Committee and served on the Board’s Transportation Task Force.
Evans is a member of the steering committee of the Northern Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition; founding member of the Fairfax Education Coalition; and co-founder of Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP). She served as the legislation committee chair of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs and as president of the Sleepy Hollow Elementary School PTA, and is a former staff writer for the Washington Post. Evans earned her bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Maryland-College Park.
Strauss has been active in education for over 30 years. She is a former elementary and preschool teacher. She obtained an M.A.T. from Harvard Graduate School of Education and her B.A. in history from George Washington University. Strauss is past president of the Franklin Sherman PTA and the Fairfax County Council of PTAs and past chair of the council’s education and budget committees.
She has served on numerous education and youth affairs committees including the FCPS Career and Technical Preparation Task Force, the Division Planning Committee, the Citizens Bond Committee, and the Fairfax Framework for Student Success. She served as Board vice chair in 2000 and Board chair in 2001 and 2011.
Next up for the FCPS board: a work session on Thursday to review new procedures for protecting transgender and non-gender conforming students. The school board will also discuss a teacher and administrator compensation study at a work session today.
Photo: Sandy Evans/Credit: FCPS
However, the league also says the move has more to do with geography than reaction to insensitive comments made by Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. and reaction from the Fairfax County Public Schools Board.
Nine of the 12 FCPS Board members wrote to the VHSL late last month advocating that future VHSL events no longer be held at the Lynchburg, Va., school.
The FCPS board comments came in support of several FCPS students who boycotted the VSHL Debate tournament in April in protest of Falwell’s comments last December. At that time, Falwell urged students to obtain concealed-carry permits and arm themselves so they could “end those Muslims.”
Falwell later said he was referring only to the Islamic terrorists who killed 14 people in December in San Bernardino, Calif., not all Muslims. Falwell told the Roanoke Times the Fairfax board had tried to “falsely portray Liberty University and me as somehow anti-Muslim. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Nonetheless, VHSL’s Executive Committee says beginning in 2016-17, 14 state tournaments — including the 2016 Group 4A and Group 3A football championship games — will be held elsewhere. Those football championships have been held at Liberty for the last 18 years.
Also moving will be Group 4A and Group 3A spring sports championships in baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer and boys and girls tennis.
VHSL assistant director for compliance Tom Dolan told the Roanoke Times last week that a number of member schools sought to move the football championship games to a different part of the state for other reasons.
“There’s been a lot of requests from membership for moving things geographically, trying to look at some different venues, mixing it up a little,” Dolan said.
Dolan said he could not determine whether Falwell’s comments had any impact on the VHSL’s departure from Liberty. Dolan said the VHSL had been studying potential moves and seeking prospective host cities since October.
Said FCPS’ Hunter Mill representative Pat Hynes: “It’s my understanding that VHSL is changing course for its own reasons, which of course I respect. I am relieved to know that many of our students will no longer feel they must choose between competing in their chosen field and feeling safe and respected.”
Hynes, who also serves at the school board chair, was one of the board members who signed the letter to the VHSL.
Nine members of the Fairfax County School Board are urging the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to stop holding events and competitions at Liberty University in Lynchburg.
Two weeks ago, several Fairfax County Public Schools students boycotted the VHSL Debate Championships at the Christian University. The students said they were protesting remarks by made by Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. that they perceived to be anti-Muslim.
At a convocation in December, Falwell urged students to obtain concealed-carry permits and arm themselves so they could “end those Muslims.” Falwell later said he was referring only to the Islamic terrorists who killed 14 people in December in San Bernardino, Calif., not all Muslims.
Hunter Mill school board representative and school board chair Pat Hynes was among the school board members signing the letter, which says school board “stands in solidarity” with the protesting students.
“We were deeply disturbed by the comments of Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. on Dec. 4, 2015 urging more than 10,000 of his assembled students to obtain handguns and stating “that we could end those Muslims before they walked in … let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” the letter reads.
“Muslim-Americans make up a large part of our community and our student body. Mr. Falwell’s comments stand in stark contrast to our goal in Fairfax County to create welcoming, inclusive environments and to ensure all of our students have access to the same opportunities.”
Upcoming VHSL events scheduled for Liberty University include Region 3A/4A soccer, softball and tennis finals this June. Northern Virginia schools are in Regions 5 and 6.
No word on whether the schedule will be altered or whether any more protests are planned.
The Hunter Mill Candidates Forum is at 2 p.m. at RCC Hunters Woods.
Expected to appear is hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, who is running unopposed, as well as school board candidates for the Hunter Mill seat.
Running for school board is Pat Hynes, the current FCPS board chair who is seeking re-election to a second term, and challenger Mark Wilkinson, and Oak Hill businessman.
The entire FCPS school board is up for re-election in the Nov. 3 race. There are nine candidates running for three At-Large seats.
Hynes, of Reston, is a former lawyer and teacher who has served on the board since 2012.
“Maintaining Fairfax County Public Schools’ world-class reputation in the twenty-first century demands visionary leadership,” Hynes says on her website. “This community expects its schools to be the best. We are preparing our students for careers that do not yet exist. What we know for sure is that our graduates will have to be flexible, creative problem-solvers who collaborate well and have strong communication skills. We must continue to build a culture that innovates from the classroom, supports our world class educators and sets high expectations for every student.”
Wilkinson says on his website he is concerned about FCPS’ budget, class sizes, and other issues.
“I believe that the children of Fairfax County must come first with any decisions made by the school establishment, particularly the School Board,” says Wilkinson. “I am well suited to be an independent and non-partisan advocate for children and sound education.
“As a parent, I know that no one knows a child and his/her needs as well as a parent. I have been troubled by the appearance, the current Board has given, that it has a disregard for parent knowledge and involvement. There is no room for a “we know best” attitude from the School Board.”
Photos: Pat Hynes (top) and Mark Wilkinson (bottom).