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Most Salt Lake schools off at least one day

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West High and Washington Elementary aren't the only Salt Lake City schools taking Olympic breaks during the 2002 Games.

In fact, 21 of 37 city schools will recess at least one of the 17 days the world converges on the Beehive State. That's aside from the regularly scheduled Presidents Day holiday.

"We were happy to have the time off," said Dilworth Elementary principal Dana Bowen, whose school will recess the week of Feb. 18.

The same goes for the state's colleges and universities, except Dixie College and Utah Valley State College and the College of Eastern Utah. But not all those students are cheering.

The time off brings "mixed emotions" and "causes some problems," Ben Lowe, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah, said. "The rhythm of study is broken, and that could cause problems when cumulative tests come along at the end of the semester."

The 2002 Winter Games are expected to increase the population of the Wasatch Front by 70,000 people each day. Preparations already are changing the face of downtown Salt Lake City, weeks away from the Feb. 8 opening ceremony.

Downtown streets have been or will be closed to automobile traffic, forcing some workers to park and walk several blocks to their jobs. Some businesses have encouraged employees to work from home or adjust to pre-dawn hours in hopes of avoiding evening Games party traffic.

U. students moved out of their dorms to make way for Olympic athletes. Rice-Eccles Stadium parking is blocked off, compounding traffic headaches. Still, ASUU's Olympic coordinator Kevin Laska believes students are responding well to the upheaval and enthusiastically anticipating the world-class event.

Like the U., public schools near Olympic venues have been forced to examine schedules and well-being of workers and students.

The Salt Lake City Board of Education last May voted to allow schools to lump teacher compensation days, allowed for extra time spent in parent-teacher conferences, and other days off for Olympic breaks.

Beacon Heights Elementary clustered Career Ladder days and student education plan conferences. The grouping halts classes for a week.

Clayton Middle School also is taking three teacher compensation days to give time off school from Thursday, Feb. 14, to Tuesday, Feb. 19. The school will remain open, complete with custodial staff and administrators, unless they want to use a personal vacation day, assistant principal Dellis Hatch said.

The board last October voted to let West and Washington schools, near the medals plaza and Delta Center's figure skating competition site, close during the entire event. Several community members argued for the recess in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, although Olympic security officials assured public safety.

Similar concerns arose in the Granite School District.

Kearns High and Beehive Elementary are next to the speedskating oval ? a little too close for comfort for some community members.

The board last November voted to let the schools close Feb. 11, 12, 19, 20 and 22; no school will be held Feb. 18, which is Presidents Day.

That leaves one school day that week, Thursday, for which attendance is uncertain.

"I think some will" come to school, Granite District spokeswoman Michele Bartmess said. "The board said to parents, 'Look, you've got to help us if we give in to these demands' " for schools to close, "and restrict time out of school because there could be some real problems."

Other school districts weighed time-off options, with varying results.

Jordan, Murray, Ogden, Weber, Nebo, Provo and Alpine school districts will hold classes as usual. "We're farther removed from venues," Jordan spokeswoman Melinda Colton said. "But we are anticipating (bus) routes might be delayed a bit. Be patient with us."

Park City, on the other hand, is a hotbed for Games venues, with snowboarding, freestyle aerials, Nordic combined, moguls, bobsled, luge, skeleton, giant slalom and ski jumping. Schools will close the entire two weeks.

Morgan schools will close Feb. 11-15, when downhill skiing, Nordic combined and super G ski races are scheduled at Snowbasin. The district and sheriff's department cringed at children waiting for buses along traffic-jammed streets, district business administrator Robert Smith said.

As for colleges and universities, those closest to Olympic venues are scheduling the most time off, with the University of Utah taking a break from Feb. 2 to 26.

Nearby Westminster College will take most of February off to allow students to participate in Olympic activities and avoid expected traffic jams. Other colleges extended the Presidents Day break to give students an opportunity to get involved.

Some are opting to do just that. A volunteer call at the U. saw 6,000 students line up, Laska said. Several events are being organized on campus to keep students involved.

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com; tvanleer@desnews.com