Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Teacher Mike Leavitt, front center, stands with Greg Willden, right, and the rest of his second period U.S. history class at Riverton High School Thursday. Willden's uncle is a Korean War veteran.

RIVERTON — A group of Riverton High students are petitioning the Jordan Board of Education to close schools in honor of Veterans Day.

"The veterans have fought hard to keep America free, and we would like a day to celebrate and hang out with them if we have them in our family," said junior Greg Willden, whose uncle is a Korean War veteran.

The students will take their case to the Jordan Board of Education Monday morning, where a "town hall meeting" of sorts has been scheduled for the effort.

"I think they will see how much this means to us," senior J.D. Nelson said. "A lot of us do care. They don't realize how many of us have members of our family in the armed forces ... and they don't let us off."

The effort largely involves students of Riverton High history teachers Mike Leavitt and Steve Schaber. Nelson says about 30 of the few hundred involved have family members who have served or are serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Nelson's family likes to spend Veterans Day, observed nationally this past Monday, together. But the teen, whose uncle was killed in the war in Iraq, wasn't able to join the gathering. Adding to his angst, he said, was a lack of commemoration at school.

"That kind of made everyone mad" in the history classes, where Veterans Day was discussed, Nelson said.

So the students wrote to state and local leaders, asking to officially commemorate the holiday just as the U.S. Postal Service does: with a day off. The school board agreed to hear their pleas.

Veterans Day is one federal holiday where more than a half million Utah schoolchildren remain in class. Columbus Day is another.

"That has been a source of some disappointment to many folks in the veterans community," said Terry Schow, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs. "It is a state and a federal holiday, and the veterans were disappointed it was not in fact recognized by having school out that day."

All 10 public colleges and universities also held classes Monday, said Amanda Covington, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education. But the day does not necessarily go unmarked; the University of Utah held a veterans celebration Friday, for example.

West Jordan High also hosts a Veterans Day assembly to honor community veterans, said school board member Peggy Jo Kennett. Jordan District spokesman Michael Kelley says most schools do something to honor the nation's servicemen and women on the holiday. Schow noted the day has several natural ties to curriculum.

Still, a group of veterans several years ago brought the idea of a Veterans Day off to the State Board of Education, Schow said, but nothing came of it.

School districts set their own calendars, including days off for holidays, the Utah Education Association convention and other events. The State Office of Education requires schools be in session at least 180 days and 990 hours each year.

"To take another holiday off in there would be difficult to schedule ... it would need to push into summer vacation or Christmas break, winter vacation," Kelley said. Difficulties compound with a four-track, year-round schedule many elementaries use, he said.

The calendar has been set for the next two school years, said J. Dale Christensen, president of the Jordan Board of Education. As for after that, he said, "there's always an open door."

"This has been probably the greatest effort I've seen" of high school students getting involved to create change, Christensen said. "We promised we would discuss it with them."

School board member Randy Brinkerhoff, who lives in Riverton, said he supports the students' idea.

"It's gratifying to see there are young people these days that are concerned about patriotism, and particularly concerned about the veterans that we have and that we should honor," Brinkerhoff said. "I wholeheartedly support them."

But Kennett wonders if students are better served in school where teachers can address the meaning of Veterans Day.

"Students have a great respect for veterans because they're in school on that day," Kennett said. "When they're out of school for a holiday, they often choose not to do anything to honor the holiday."

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