Most New Jersey schools were closed last Thursday and Friday for the New Jersey Education Association's annual teachers' convention. Assemblywoman Donna Simon said the convention should be moved to when school is already out, and she is in the process of drafting legislation to change the dates.

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"It's common sense and it's something that's been talked about enough, and I'm going to take it to the next level and create a piece of legislation for it," Simon (R-Flemington) said. "These are teachers, parents and school board members that have approached me. This is not coming from the other legislators."

According to Simon, there are too many disruptions in the school schedule, especially in November, which makes it harder for students to learn when they're in and out of school so much. In particular, she said special needs children, such as those with autism, need as much continuity as possible.

"No student loses a day of school for the convention, because every district still offers at least 180 days of instruction," said NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer in an emailed response. "Our members attend at their own expense because it is so valuable to them professionally. That's why it's been a part of New Jersey's educational landscape for decades, and why we are confident it will remain a valuable tool for many years to come."

Simon was quick to point out that she will not propose canceling the convention.

"I do realize that there is a mandate for 180 days," she said. "We're looking at legislation to change the days for the convention."

The convention is paid for through NJEA members' dues, and Wollmer said attendance for members is free as a benefit of membership. There is a charge for teachers who are not members, or who are from other states.

"As for holding the convention sometime when school is already out, is she suggesting weekends?" Wollmer asked in his email. "Over the summer, when so many teachers are working summer jobs?"

Even though the legislation is still in the drafting process, Simon said she is thinking along the lines that Wollmer mentioned.

"Whether it's doing it during the Presidents Day few days off, or weekends or the summer, whatever it is," Simon said.

Out of 200,000 NJEA members, only 30,000 -- just 15 percent -- attend the convention, according to Simon. Wollmer disputed those numbers, saying there are actually 125,000 active teachers in New Jersey. The NJEA does have 200,000 members, but they include 50,000 or so educational support professionals and another 25,000 or so retired members, so the attendance figure is actually closer to 30 percent.

"We'd like to invite Assemblywoman Simon to attend next year's convention, so she can see for herself the enormous professional development value it provides to teachers and school employees," Wollmer wrote.

The assemblywoman said she understands the importance of the convention to teachers and to the economy of Atlantic City, but insisted moving the dates to preserve the continuity of learning for our children would be the right thing to do.