POWHATAN – Powhatan County Public Schools is looking for input once again on whether the district will switch to an earlier start date next year.

Tracie Omohundro, assistant superintendent for instruction, gave an updated presentation to the Powhatan County School Board during its meeting on Tuesday, Nov.12 about the question of the division’s start date. The school board is considering a staff proposal to start the school year two weeks early, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

In July 2019, legislation went into effect that would allow divisions that haven’t already sought a waiver to start their school year up to two weeks prior to Labor Day, Omohundro said. Those divisions that do choose to start early are required to be closed the Friday immediately preceding Labor Day.

At last week’s meeting, Omohundro presented the findings of the division’s school calendar committee, which has been reviewing this issue of a potential calendar change. Of the 42 committee members surveyed, 35 responded, with 73.5 percent voting in favor of a start date two weeks before Labor Day and 26.5 percent wanting to stay with a start date on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Omohundro noted that when the committee started meeting to review this topic, the majority of them were not in favor of changing the start date. The change in opinion for many came after thorough review and discussion, which the public may not have had. At their last meeting on Oct. 24, some of the major discussion items among committee members were impact on childcare, vacations, and academics.

The committee’s recommendation will be one factor in the school board’s ultimate decision, Omohundro said. Another factor will be the results of a poll, which is going on right now.

Every year, parents and staff are asked to choose between two calendar options, she said. This year, one of those options will feature a pre-Labor Day start date.

Omohundro mentioned a previous survey sent out that received 1,564 responses from middle and high school students, parents, and employees. However, in that survey, they were asked if they would consider changing the calendar to begin two weeks early. Of the 1,564 responses received, 47 percent said yes, 37 percent said no, 13, percent said maybe, and 3 percent had another response.

With the new poll, parents and staff will actually be choosing between the two calendars, she said.

The Calendar A option, which features a post-Labor day start, would see school starting on Sept. 8, 2020, and ending on June 18, 2021.

The Calendar B option, which starts before Labor Day, would see the first day of school on Aug. 24, 2020, and the last day of school on June 4, 2021.

Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent, pointed out that while the process of looking at the calendar started earlier this year because of the bigger question of shifting the school year, the process going forward is the annual tradition of asking people to choose between two calendars.

Another factor the school board might consider is the news that the Chesterfield County School Board has delayed discussing a pre-Labor Day start date for schools until a newly elected board is seated in 2020, Omohundro said. If the new school board approves a change, it would not take effect until the 2021-2022 school year.

Chairman Joe Walters, who represents District 4, asked for the results of the poll before the school board’s December meeting. The board could make a decision at their December 2019 or January 2020 meeting.

Both Valarie Ayers, District 3, and Rick Cole, District 1, noted that many of the committee members changed their minds about a pre-Labor Day start after thoroughly reviewing the topic.

Cole said it would have been nice if Chesterfield had decided to change its start date to ease the transition, but the fact that it didn’t doesn’t mean he will automatically exclude an earlier start date as an option. He pointed to other school districts that had earlier starts for years when their larger neighbors did not.

“Though ideally we would like to have everybody on the same calendar, I don’t think the fact that everybody around us is on the same calendar is a factor that will eliminate us making the change. … I am not 100 percent sure what I am going to do at this point, but I will say what I said from the beginning – I want to do what is best for our students,” Cole said.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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