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WüRZBURG, Germany — School officials have handed 1st Infantry Division troops returning from Iraq a Christmas gift that some parents don’t want: They’ve moved up their children’s spring break one month so the weeklong holiday falls during the time most of the returning troops will be on block leave.

Late last week, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe announced that schools in Ansbach, Bamberg, Grafenwöhr, Kitzingen, Schweinfurt, Vilseck and Würzburg will hold spring recess from March 14-18. All other schools will take the holiday as scheduled, from April 11-15.

“This was in the best interests of military families,” said Mary Ellen Riley, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for DODDS’ Bavaria District.

About 11,000 1st ID troops from northern Bavaria left in February for a difficult yearlong deployment in north central Iraq, and most are expected to return to Germany between late January and early March.

Upon returning, each soldier will work seven half-days of “reintegration training,” then receive 30 days of block leave. If the troops return home as scheduled, the original school holiday would fall outside the troops’ vacation time.

“When my husband comes back, if the kids are still in school we don’t want to take them out,” said Vanny Cao, the mother of two Würzburg American Elementary School children.

“It’s a good decision,” said Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lewis of the Kitzingen-based 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery, a mother of two elementary-school age daughters who is home on leave from Iraq. “Once we return, they’ll be out of school. That’s more time I’ll get to spend with my family.”

But the decision prompted fierce debate within DODDS before it was announced last week. For teachers and many families, the school calendar is a set-in-stone fixture around which they schedule their lives. Some have set vacations or purchased nonrefundable airline tickets.

“The school calendar is the gold standard, what we go by. This sets a terrible precedent for all future deployments,” said Wendy Starnes of Würzburg, a parent-teacher association member. “The community should have been polled.”

Last Wednesday, Ronald McIntire, the Bavaria district superintendent, sent a memo to faculty and administrators saying that the spring-break change — under consideration since September — had been rejected.

“I thought for sure it wasn’t going to go,” said Pinky Hall, a Schweinfurt teacher whose husband is deployed to Iraq.

But after a strong reaction from Army leaders at 1st ID and U.S. Army Europe, DODDS-Europe Superintendent Joseph Tafoya reversed the decision the following day. The leaders persuaded him that the extreme hardship of the Iraq tour on 1st ID families outweighed the inconvenience to the school district.

Mike Thompson, assistant superintendent in the Bavaria District, said the rescheduled break may force schools to reschedule some sports events, and part of a three-week period of standardized testing also must be changed. The district may add a holiday as well, to break up the long stretch between spring break and Memorial Day. School officials also have been told to give plenty of latitude to teachers and families who have made plans for April.

“We had a little hesitation about it at first,” said Harvey Gerry, DODDS-Europe’s chief of staff. “Given the really extreme nature of what went on, we said ‘OK, let’s go ahead and make the change.’”

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