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Schools to keep Veterans holiday

Last night, war veterans in Hillsborough County won another battle.

Before an angry audience of retired service members, the Hillsborough County School Board unanimously rejected a proposal to drop Veterans Day as one of the holidays on the 1998-99 school calendar. Further, the board voted unanimously never to remove the federal holiday, celebrated Nov. 11, from future calendars.

Hillsborough students will get a day off on Veterans Day "from now on until another (School) Board goes crazy," said board member Joe Newsome.

About 35 veterans appeared at the board meeting in American Legion uniforms and caps, furious that school officials had even suggested the move.

The committee of parents, teachers, administrators and students who designed the 1998-99 calendar had proposed replacing the Veterans Day holiday with Veterans Observance Week, to run Nov. 9-13, 1998.

The offer did not sit well with veterans.

"If it were not for the veterans, we would not even be able to be having this discussion today," said Jim Smith, commander of American Legion Post 147 on Gunn Highway.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart, speaking "as a son of this community," also pleaded with the board to reject the change.

"I hope you will keep this day sacred for all of us," he said.

Students in Pinellas and Pasco counties do not get a day off for Veterans Day, though Citrus and Hernando students do.

Changing the Hillsborough calendar was meant to accommodate requests from parents and students to end first semester before winter break, so high school students can take exams before the holidays, and for a day off before Thanksgiving to lengthen that break.

The calendar proposal now goes back to the board's administrative staff, which will restore the Veterans Day holiday but must find another place to add a school day.

Newsome initially urged the board to simply add the day onto the end of the school year but changed his mind when it was pointed out that such a move would make the second semester 10 days longer than the first.

For high school students on block schedules, uneven semesters mean less time during the first part of the year to cover the same amount of work taught during the second.

Board members Sharon Danaher and Candy Olson said before the vote that many students do not use the holiday to honor veterans and applauded the effort to create a week of in-class emphasis on veterans' contributions.

"To me that's a better way to honor veterans than to keep (students) home," Olson said.

The board's decision proved "there is still patriotism and Americans still count in Hillsborough County," said Mary Ellen Harlan, the wife of a retired Navy pilot.

The board will vote on the revised calendar at its April 22 meeting.

In other board action:

Dr. Margaret Fisher, principal of Young Junior High, was appointed principal of Young Middle Magnet School beginning July 1. Young will reopen as a math and science-themed school this fall.

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association announced its intent to enter into collective bargaining with the board over terms of new medical insurance plans for members. The union is not satisfied with the new plans, which include an average $1,000 to $1,500 yearly rate increase for all school employees with family coverage.

Board members approved shifting 146 ninth-graders living within the Mintz Elementary attendance boundaries from Brandon High to Bloomingdale High for the 1997-98 year. Board members also voted to transfer 68 students living north of the Alafia River on Riverview Drive from Gibsonton Elementary to Bing Elementary, and to reassign 19 students who live on the south side of Symmes Road to Apollo Beach Elementary.

The moves should reduce overcrowding at Brandon High and Gibsonton Elementary, officials said.