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A conflict for pupils over free tickets?

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Although the Salt Lake Organizing Committee offered 57,000 tickets for the 2002 Winter Games and 72,000 for the Paralympics to Utah schoolchildren, some students may not attend the free events.

Some of the free tickets are for events held on Sundays, which could conflict with religious beliefs, prompting parents to think twice before sending their children to the Games.

"I wasn't too thrilled with (Sunday tickets)," said Stephanie Harris, parent of a Davis School District student. "But I figured that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I'm allowing her to go."

Richard Baird, principal of Lincoln elementary in Layton, said most families recognize the unique circumstances and are willing to bend the rules a bit for free tickets.

"You get what you can get on something like this," Baird said. "Those who want to go (will) do the things they need to do to be there."

Schools notified students before winter break if they received Olympic tickets, which gives parents time to plan for transportation, warm weather clothing and providing meals on the go. They were told students should be prepared to stand in the cold at outdoor venues, tolerate long bus rides and pay for their own food at the venues. Students must follow the same guidelines as paying spectators, which means they can't bring backpacks or food from home into the venues.

Harris has no idea how much money to send for meals with her fourth-grader to the cross-country events at Soldier Hollow. School lunches at Vae View elementary run about $1.50 to $2.25 ? but Harris entertains no serious notions that a couple of dollars will cover her daughter's meal at the venue.

"What may seem reasonable to send with a child may not be reasonable," Harris said. "Are some parents going to be able to afford that?"

SLOC liaisons met with school district officials months ago to distribute the tickets, offering districts the choice of events, times and venues. Proceeds from the Olympic license plate program were used to pay for the tickets.

SLOC distributed them based on the percentage of Utah schoolchildren in a given district and instructed districts to divide the tickets as evenly as possible among schools.

The SLOC Olympic education program suggested reserving 10 percent of all tickets for each of 10 categories. Those include categories of students who excelled in leadership, community activities, academics and athletics. They might reserve some for at-risk children, too, or hold a drawing.

Orchard Elementary in Alpine School District, for instance, used a variety of means, including drawing from names of students who sang at the school's mock "opening ceremonies" a while back. Another 20 percent or so of its 85 tickets for the giant slalom races and men's hockey went to at-risk children.

"For this generation, this will be the only time they probably will see an Olympic event in their lifetime," principal Jim Melville said. "It's a wonderful opportunity, especially for at-risk students."

Jordan District received 6,300 tickets and was doing its best to "spread the wealth," said Theresa Gotay, who is in charge of district ticket distribution.

Hillcrest High School in Jordan School District opted for several random drawings. The only qualification for the drawing was a signed permission form from the student's parents or guardians. If students did not want to attend Sunday events, they indicated so on the permission form and were omitted from the drawing for Sunday tickets.

Most schools elected to hold drawings with slight qualifications for students based on academic performance or participation in extracurricular activities, said Daniel Pacheco, who works for SLOC's education program.

"We really strive to make this fair and equitable for all," Pacheco said. "we wanted to make sure that there were many different (criteria), so that it wasn't one group. (We tried to avoid) opportunities that a given school could just select one group of students."

Contributing: Jennifer Toomer-Cook

E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com