Summer isn’t the only thing that’s almost over in the Richmond area.
This year could mark an end of sorts for some area students who’ll be rezoned, end up in new buildings or see major changes to their academic calendar for the 2020-21 school year.
School divisions in the area have opened after Labor Day since the 1980s, but that could change; one local school system is close to moving to a year-round school calendar.
Here’s what to know:
Labor Day school openings
During this year’s General Assembly session, state lawmakers repealed part of what became known as the “Kings Dominion Law,” a requirement that said school districts without waivers must open after Labor Day.
Schools are now allowed to open as early as two weeks before the early September holiday. None in the Richmond area will yet, but it’s being considered for the 2020-21 school year.
Under the new law, students will have a four-day Labor Day weekend. School would be out the Friday before Labor Day through the actual holiday on Monday.
School officials in Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Richmond have all said that opening before Labor Day next year is under consideration.
“Now that starting school prior to Labor Day is an option for us, we’d like to make this a community conversation in Henrico,” said county school system spokesman Andy Jenks when Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law. “We need to hear from our teachers, parents, students and interested citizens prior to making any shifts to the traditional school calendar.
“Together, we’ll choose to do what’s best for schools and students in 2020 and beyond.”
Said Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras: “I want to talk to our families and our teachers about that, but all options are on the table.”
School calendars are normally developed in the middle of the school year, so we’ll have to wait a few months before pre-Labor Day openings are happening in the area.
Richmond schools and school zones
This could also be the last year of the current school zones in Richmond.
The city school system is in the midst of a divisionwide rezoning process, reviewing the boundaries for all 37 neighborhood schools in the city.
Once decided, the new school zones would take effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year, according to a timeline for the process.
A special rezoning committee is reviewing three options prepared by Ohio-based consultant Cropper GIS. All three options call for at least 1 in 10 students in the city to change schools.
Elementary schools would be the most heavily impacted under the current options, which aren’t final and have not been voted on.
The proposals call for rezoning in South Side, where the average capacity of an elementary school is over 100%. Others suggest the “pairing” of schools — creating one big school zone in the name of increasing student diversity.
The rezoning committee will meet again in September and make a recommendation to the School Board in the fall with a vote by the board — the body that actually has the power to change the zones — expected by the end of the calendar year.
Some community members have questioned the ability of the school system to implement the new zones — specifically the transportation of the new zones — under the current timeline.
The city is building three new schools that are all set to open at the start of next school year, though, and school leaders want as many students in the new schools as possible.
The construction of the new schools — George Mason Elementary, E.S.H. Greene Elementary and a new middle school on Hull Street Road — is on track, according to a group tasked with overseeing the construction.
The Joint Construction Team, which is made up of members of the school system’s administration, city administration and contractors, said at its meeting Thursday that the timeline remains for the three schools to open in the fall of 2020.
“We’re where we need to be,” said Michael McIntyre, the representative on the committee from AECOM, the firm that won the bid for the latest round of new school construction. “We’re in good shape.”
The school system has scheduled more community meetings on the rezoning proposals at Carver Elementary School (Tuesday), the Neighborhood Resource Center on Williamsburg Road (Wednesday) and the Southside Community Services Center (Thursday).
Hopewell year-round schools
While not official, this is likely the last school year in Hopewell where students aren’t in schools year-round.
The city school system is set to become the first in Virginia next year by having every school operate year-round. The School Board there signed off on the proposal from Superintendent Melody Hackney in May contingent on state funding.
“I am convinced from our research, a more balanced calendar will have a positive impact on students,” Hackney said Friday. “While significantly reducing the summer regression we know occurs when children are out of school for two months each year, it is also a tremendous opportunity to design exciting and experiential nontraditional learning experiences for students to voluntarily enjoy during their brief breaks after each academic marking period.”
While Hopewell will be the first division in Virginia to have every school open all year, several individual schools in the Richmond region currently go all year.
Bellwood Elementary School in Chesterfield County operates year-round, as does Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts in Richmond, the state’s first charter elementary school, and CodeRVA, a regional magnet school in Richmond where Hopewell sends two students.
The new Hopewell calendar would have nine straight weeks of instruction followed by either three weeks of vacation, two weeks of intersession — community projects, camps and field trips, among other things — or a combination of the two.
Students would get six weeks off in the summer. They’d still have 180 days of school like they do now, just spread out over the course of the full year.
Whether the division will receive the money it needs for implementing the year-round calendar is expected to be announced next month.