Worried that local schools could be targeted by terrorists during the 2002 Winter Olympics to be held in February, the president of the Salt Lake City teachers’ association has asked the city’s school board to reverse a decision it made last year to keep schools open during the event.
Elaine Tzourtzouklis, the president of the 900-member union, had urged closing schools in the Salt Lake City district even before this month’s terrorists attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, so that students and teachers from the Olympic Games’ host city could attend events as spectators or volunteers.
Closing the schools for security reasons, she said, is even more important now.
“My concern is the safety of the people in the school buildings,” Ms. Tzourtzouklis said. “Some of the schools are right in the middle of all this activity.”
The Olympics run from Feb. 8 through Feb. 24. The 24,000-student district already plans to close West High School and Washington Elementary School for one week during the Games because of their locations close to Olympic venues.
While the board of education didn’t discuss school closures during its Sept. 18 meeting, some members expressed concern about plans to rent out the parking lot of West High to the Salt Lake Olympic Committee.
The board was to close on a contract that would lease the high school’s driving range to the committee so that it could be used for pedestrian pickup points during events. West High is located near the Delta Center, an Olympic venue.
The decision, along with the question of closing schools, was scheduled to be studied further by the board at a meeting this week.
“The events of September 11 have certainly raised the stakes for many people who work in the schools,” said Joel Briscoe, the president of the Salt Lake City board of education. “But we shouldn’t make some knee-jerk judgment now. We just need to step back and give this some time.”
Other districts in Utah had already decided to close schools for some time during the Olympics for logistical and transportation reasons.
Terry Shoemaker, the superintendent of the 3,700-student Wasatch district in Heber City, said the district decided last year to close schools for a week because traffic routes through the area will be clogged with people going to events.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks, the decision makes even more sense, Mr. Shoemaker said. “We feel even better now that we will not be in session,” he said last week.
The 2,000- student Morgan district and the 3,900-student Park City district also will be closed for one week because of expected traffic complications related to their proximity to Olympic events.
But most of the state’s 40 districts will keep schools open during the Olympics, according to Mark Peterson, the public relations director for the Utah State Office of Education.
The 73,000-student Jordan district, the state’s largest, will remain open as well.