RICHMOND, Va. — As more Virginia students start school before Labor Day, a Virginia amusement park has adjusted its operating schedule.
While a spokesperson for Kings Dominion would not say why the park ended daily operations before Labor Day this year, more than 800,000 Virginia public school students are already back at school.
This year Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest school system, joined the 85 Virginia public school systems that begin before Labor Day.
Once you add the approximately 186,000 Fairfax County students into the mix of students already in school, “a reasonable estimate of the percentage of Virginia public school students who return to school before Labor Day” is 65-percent, according to a Virginia Department of Education spokesperson.
That means more Virginia students start school before Labor Day than after the end-of-summer holiday, despite a state law — commonly referred to as the Kings Dominion Law — that required school systems to start after Labor Day, unless they were approved for a waiver .
The purpose of the law was to help Virginia’s tourism industry.
If school starts after Labor Day, amusement parks like Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens, would theoretically have more days to attract more park guests and a larger pool of high school aged employees available to work.
But this year, Kings Dominion made the decision to cease daily operations before Labor Day.
While the schedule was posted online, the decision caught some Kings Dominion fans off guard.
“I’ve been buying season passes for over 25 years [and] I’ve NEVER seen this park close on weekdays before Labor Day!” Facebook fan Dorothy Burke Tribble wrote.
“Single dumbest thing y’all have done closing the week before Labor Day when a lot of family’s [sic] take vacation before school starts,” Facebook fan Kevin Brooke added.
A Kings Dominion spokesperson would not comment on the exact reason, or reasons, for the decision to end daily operations before Labor Day.
“There are many factors that go into planning out the operating schedule for the year,” park spokeswoman Katelyn Sherwood said. “We felt that being open Monday, August 28th and Friday through Monday of Labor Day weekend made the most sense for this year’s schedule, which was set last year.”
A map of Virginia school districts that start after Labor Day show the vast majority of post-Labor Day starters are located in central and southeastern Virginia, closer to tourist hot spots like Kings Dominion, Busch Gardens, and Virginia Beach.
Some Central Virginia school systems (Louisa, Goochland, Amelia, and Caroline) have received waivers to start before Labor Day.
In order to obtain a waiver, a school system must:
Be closed an average of eight days per year during any five of the last 10 years because of severe weather conditions, energy shortages, power failures, or other emergency situations
Be entirely surrounded by a school division with a pre-Labor Day opening and wishes to open its schools on the same date
Provide instructional programs in partnership with another school division that already qualifies for a waiver
Provide students with an experimental or innovative program that requires an earlier opening date and has been approved by VDOE as meeting Board of Education regulations.
School spokespeople in Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover indicated there was no active effort to obtain a Pre-Labor Day opening waiver.
“We do not meet the requirements [for a waiver],” Chesterfield Schools spokesperson Shawn Smith said. “Our school division continues to advocate to our elected officials for local flexibility and control over the public school calendar.”
Henrico Schools spokesman Andy Jenks echoed those sentiments.
“We don’t qualify for a waiver based on VDOE’s guidelines… [but] we do support the idea of giving local School Boards the authority to establish their own school calendars [beginning and end dates] as long as all standards of quality and accreditation are being met.”
An email sent to school leaders in Richmond has not yet been returned.
Kings Dominion reopens for the holiday weekend on Friday.
Busch Gardens, which closed Tuesday due to weather conditions, remains operating on a daily schedule through the long Labor Day weekend.