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Bucking a century-old practice, the Utah Education Association board of directors has canceled its fall 2018 convention.

SALT LAKE CITY — Bucking a century-old practice, the Utah Education Association board of directors has canceled its fall 2018 convention.

Fear not. Utah public schools plan to observe fall break, colloquially known as UEA weekend or UEA break. By all means, proceed with your fall vacation plans.

"Our school calendar has been set up for over a year so we don't anticipate any changes in the calendar at this point in time," said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.

Dwindling attendance played a role in the decision to cancel the 2018 convention, but it was also an acknowledgement that teachers need a break from the demands of the classroom, said UEA president Heidi Matthews.

"They're tired. They need to recharge during time we have scheduled for that," she said.

It's a key factor in teacher retention, Matthews said, referring to a recent Utah Education Policy Center report that identified emotional exhaustion, stress and burnout as the top reasons teachers leave the profession.

Another factor in the decision to cancel the 2018 convention, which was planned for Oct. 18-19, was UEA's need to focus its energies on a ballot question that will ask voters in November whether the gas tax should be raised to provide more money for schools and roads.

The question, part of the Our Schools Now compromise, is nonbinding. It would be up to the 2019 Legislature to approve the increase.

As for 2019, UEA has tentatively schedule its convention for Oct. 17-18. It's conceivable UEA could resume the convention, but much depends on the November vote and what occurs during the 2019 legislative session, she said.

Other factors have contributed to the decreased participation in the convention over the years, Matthews said. Several school districts schedule their fall breaks at different times from a majority of larger school districts along the Wasatch Front, which made it impossible for those educators to attend.

Historically, the convention was a key provider of professional development for teachers.

"Not only would the districts release teachers for those days, they were paid and (it was) built into the calendar. Again, this was before the internet, before people were able to get their continuing education credits or professional development in different ways. So as that changed, the compensation for going to the convention disappeared so it was a voluntary thing in almost all districts," Matthews said.

Matthews acknowledged that canceling the convention was a sea change for the state's largest teacher union, which serves some 18,000 educators, but after surveying members, they said they most enjoyed the opportunity to get together and network.

To that end, UEA has created a task force of early career educators age 35 and younger charged with making recommendations to UEA directors on the best ways to recruit and support new teachers.

UEA directors are considering other opportunities to connect with teachers such as holding smaller regional meetings.

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For now, the 2018 convention may be on hold, but for public schools across the state fall break is on.

The break actually hasn't been officially considered UEA weekend or break for more than a decade.

In 2007, the Utah Legislature passed SB56, which "prohibits school calendars and publications from referring to the name of any teacher organization in reference to any break in the school calendar."

The thrice-substituted bill narrowly passed the Utah House of Representatives by a vote of 39-31, but won final passage in the Utah Senate on a vote of 20-8.