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With end to UEA conventions, some school boards eye eliminating or shortening fall breaks

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Apr 15th, 2019 @ 7:38am

SALT LAKE CITY — As the annual Utah Education Association convention fades away, some Utah school districts are looking at eliminating or shortening their fall breaks.

Calendar changes reflect other requests such as a push by families to end the school year by Memorial Day or lengthen other school breaks.

After voting to take a break from its annual convention in 2018, UEA leaders took a year to consider alternatives in the face of declining attendance at the fall meeting.

UEA President Heidi Matthews said the board of directors took a hard look at "meeting the needs of members and being responsive to what they need."

What they needed most, Matthews said, was an opportunity to rest and recharge, a point buttressed by a Utah Education Policy Center report that identified emotional exhaustion, stress and burnout as top reasons teachers leave the profession.

"We listened," Matthews said.

The board decided to no longer conduct its annual convention but is planning regional activities and using technology to reach its members.

With the fall convention off the table, some school districts have considered eliminating or shortening what in most Wasatch Front districts has been a two-day break from school.

The Granite School Board recently adopted a calendar for the 2020-21 school year that has no fall recess, although there is one Friday in October that students are excused from attendance.

The board considered two options presented by it calendar committee. More than 10,000 people responded to the district's preference survey.

In the past, Granite District had a shorter spring break than other districts and there has been pushback about that, said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.

Many respondents want the school year to end by Memorial Day.

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The way the proposed 2020-21 calendar worked out, school was scheduled the Monday and Tuesday before the start of the winter break. For that year, at least, it made more sense to forego a two-day fall break and instead give teachers and student two full weeks off for winter recess.

"I think our board is open to having fall breaks in the future. It seemed convenient on that year's calendar we were working on," he said.

For the 2020-21 academic year at least, the district plans some outreach so families accustomed to the two-day break understand there will be only one school day in October 2020 that student attendance is not required.

Earlier this week, the Salt Lake City Board of Education reviewed proposed academic calendars for years through the 2022-23 school year.

According to a districtwide survey, the preferred options for the three academic years had no fall breaks but included a two-week winter recess, a week off for spring break with a late August start and completion of the school year in early June.

However, school communities were not presented a calendar option that included a fall break.

Board member Kristi Swett said the three options presented to patrons stirred "a really great conversation in all my schools. What kept coming up was, 'Why wasn't there a fall break. Why wasn't it on any of the options?' "

Board member Michael Nemelka said 14,000 people expressed preference for Option 1 each of the three years, which had no fall break and an earlier end to the school year.

"What's two lousy, stinking days? I can't believe it. It's beginning to get ridiculous, I'm sorry," he said.

The board voted 6-1 to reject the proposed calendars; reassemble the calendar committee and request options that includes a fall break. Nemelka voted against the motion.

Attendance at the Utah Education Association has suffered a slow erosion, said Matthews.

Over the years, school districts' changes to fall break schedules made it impossible for those educators to attend the UEA convention because they weren't uniform statewide.

Historically, the convention was a key provider of professional development for teachers. School districts paid teachers for at least one day of the two-day event. Over time that changed, too.

In 2007, even calling the fall break "UEA weekend" went to the wayside after the Utah Legislature passed a bill that "prohibits school calendars and publications from referring to the name of any teacher organization in reference to any break in the school calendar."

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