PJ BLOGGER

Safety Concerns Eclipse Civic Lessons as Schools Cancel Classes on Election Day

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2008 at 4:59 pm

THE NEW YORK TIMES
October 19, 2008
By KAREN ANN CULLOTTA

School officials and parents across the nation are turning an increasingly critical eye on the time-honored tradition of voters’ casting ballots in the gymnasiums and hallways of neighborhood school buildings while classes go on as usual just a few yards away.

Citing a litany of safety concerns, many officials are opting to keep youngsters home on Nov. 4, Election Day.
“School districts across the country now spend millions of dollars each year on controlling access to buildings with locked doors and surveillance cameras to keep strangers out,” said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, an advocacy group, in Cleveland. “In a post-Columbine, post-9/11 world, we shouldn’t be opening the doors at our schools on Election Day, and just hoping everything will be O.K.”

The decision to cancel classes on Election Day in the Rockland public schools in Massachusetts stemmed from an accident — an elderly driver, on his way to vote in the state’s presidential primary on Feb. 5, struck and critically injured an 8-year-old girl outside an elementary school in a neighboring district.

The accident and the response by Rockland officials caught the attention of a PTA president in Aurora, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, a mother of two whose worries about the use of schools as polling places prompted the district to give students the day off on Election Day.

“The impetus for our resolution was simply a parent who asked, ‘Does it make sense for the security measures we have in place at our schools to be abandoned on Election Day?’ ” said Robin Church, president of the Parents’ Council at Indian Prairie School District 204 in Aurora. “We all agreed that student safety was paramount every day, and that includes Election Day.”

At the Smithtown Central School District in New York, Election Day will find teachers and administrators gathered at a professional development conference, while the district’s 11,000 students enjoy a holiday from classes.
“The decision to have a nonattendance day in November coinciding with Election Day was a no-brainer,” said Smithtown’s superintendent of schools, Edward Ehmann. “Our parking lots are already crowded with people coming and going on a regular school day, and this election is expected to have a record voter turnout.”
In Allen County, Ind., which includes Fort Wayne, students will be in school on Election Day, but voters will not. Officials have moved the polling places from schools to churches and other public places.

“In today’s world, we ask a mother to show her driver’s license before she can deliver cupcakes to her daughter’s classroom,” said John H. Weicker, security director for Fort Wayne Community Schools. “But on Election Day, we were allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to walk in the front door.”

The wisdom of closing schools on Election Day has skeptics, including Kathy Christie, chief of staff at the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan organization. She described the effort to separate students from voters as a “knee-jerk reaction.”

“It breaks my heart to think we are losing the opportunity to send a very strong message to children about their civic duties,” Ms. Christie said. “Keeping kids home on Election Day also creates an inconvenience and another worry about day care for their parents.”

Chicago is one city where classes will not be canceled, nor polling places relocated, on Nov. 4.

“Our schools are public buildings, and we need to make them as available as possible to our community,” said Mike Vaughn, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman. “Our primary concern is that there is not a disruption to the students, so we’ve made sure the voting booths are not located in high-traffic areas.”

It is a decision with which the Cook County clerk, David Orr, whose jurisdiction includes the Chicago Public Schools, respectfully disagrees, especially since a record number of voters are expected to cast ballots.

“In an ideal world, it would be nice for children to see voters in their schools,” Mr. Orr said. “But you have to ask yourself, what if?”

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  1. All part of Karl Rove’s attempts to keep voter turnout as low as possible this year.

  2. This is the statement that I find to be more of an issue: “The decision to cancel classes on Election Day in the Rockland public schools in Massachusetts stemmed from an accident — an elderly driver, on his way to vote in the state’s presidential primary on Feb. 5, struck and critically injured an 8-year-old girl outside an elementary school in a neighboring district.”
    I am far more concerned about this type of issue then a “voter” being a danger to children in the school building.
    And YES – before someone else says it – some of the parents during daily drop off and pick up are just as much of a hazard. But, we all should agree that election day brings more traffic.

  3. Go for it Ridgewood. Completely give over to your most liberal impulses.

    Let’s keep the children home while the people who pay for the schools vote.

  4. There is absolutely no logical reason to hold polling on a weekday. Plenty of examples exist around the world of elections taking place on weekends. Have religious observances? Vote absentee. Numbers of voters would most likely increase and these cockamamie Election Day scenarios involving threatened children would all but disappear.

  5. The biggest problem I see is early voting by mail.

    All who wish to vote ought to get off their duffs and go to a polling station and pull the lever.

    It is the least we can do to participate in our election process.

  6. The biggest problem I see is early voting by mail.

    That’s our overseas troops vote. Are you suggesting that they be disenfranchised?

  7. 10:05 AM Makes a very good point, one I never gave any consideration. Why not vote on the week-end nationwide? While this is not something Ridgewood can do alone, it is a very good idea on many fronts!

  8. “That’s our overseas troops vote. Are you suggesting that they be disenfranchised?” 1:59 PM

    NO, I AM NOT.

    However, when people do it just because they want to avoid going to the polls on the 2nd Tuesday of November, then yea, I think it stinks.

    For the record, it is called “absentee voting” by our military not “early voting” by mail and at polls like what is going on in some states already..

  9. I was born and raised in Ridgewood. Schools were always closed on the Presidential Election Day. In fact, at GW, where I went to both elementary and junior high, we traditionally held a Bake Sale, with real homemade baked goods, not Entemann’s, to sell to the voters and raise money for the school. But I guess that was before we had to have so many other days off.

  10. 8:13, times have changed

  11. 813 I went to school here and I dont remember them ever being closed on elections day ..are you sure your not a teacher fishing for another day off?

  12. Yes 4:33… You are correct and 8:13 is talking out of his arse.
    Schools have always been open for election day. I don’t even believe that 8:13 even went to school here as a kid.

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