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Too soon to start school

Even before the last pitch was thrown for youth softball this summer, public school students in Prince Edward, Buckingham and Cumberland counties were back in school. Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, students won’t return to class until after Labor Day, thanks to an antiquated law that requires school divisions to get state permission to start any earlier.

Surely there’s a compromise somewhere between those two extremes. Early August, when many years the thermometer is still reaching the mid- to upper 90s and when families are just returning from summer vacation, is too soon. Labor Day is too late.

State lawmakers should adopt a uniform school calendar — or authorize the state Department of Education to do so — that sets the beginning of the school year around the third week of August. That would still allow school divisions plenty of padding for days missed because of inclement weather. Divisions that employ year-round schooling or want to experiment with other calendar innovations could apply for waivers.

Uniformity is important for families with children in different divisions. Maybe a Farmville child wants to spend a week at his cousin’s house in Virginia Beach. A uniform school calendar would make such a visit easier to plan.

When the back-to-school calendar comes up again next year in the General Assembly, as it does every year, the vote should be for a reasonable compromise that gives families a full summer break but gets kids back in class well before Labor Day.