By: Jesse Cook (Sports Editor)
Thousands of high schools nationwide double as election-day facilities, allowing hundreds, sometimes thousands of people to walk into the school and wander around. Elections almost always occur in the middle of the week, on a Tuesday. Many schools close their classes for election days, but some still force their students into an uncertain situation.
According to U.S.A. Today, in 2016, roughly 51% of voters were concerned about the safety of the high school students on election days.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp expressed similar concerns. He said, “There is a concern, just like at a concert, sporting event or other public gatherings, that we didn’t have 15 or 20 years ago. What if someone walks in a polling location with a backpack bomb or something?”
Writer for the Orlando Sentinel Chris Talgo said that closing schools would be detrimental because working parents would have to find alternative childcare. He wrote, “Consequently, these parents would either have to take a day off or pay for child-care services while they are at work. Either way, it is a no-win situation for millions of Americans (and another day American students will not be in classrooms).”
The debate comes down to the safety of children. When schools allow people to enter the school with relatively unrestricted access, students are in danger of a person walking throughout the school potentially with a weapon. Adversely, parents might have to leave their children unattended when their children may not be safe in such an unsupervised environment.
Junior Max Pozner said that Sharon High School has never had any serious problems on election day, so schools should stay open. He said, “I think schools should remain open on election days. I feel this way because there have been no issues regarding the safety of students in the past, and there are police usually at the school while voting occurs.”
Pozner continued to say that he is proud of how effective the Sharon Police Department is at protecting students on election day. “I think Sharon does a great job protecting their students on voting day, as there are always police officers present,” said Pozner.
Sharon Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Victoria Greer said that she does not believe that schools should remain open on election days. She said, “I do believe that schools that are polling sites should close on major election days (i.e. Presidential elections, major primary elections) when the number of voters are at high numbers.”
“It is extremely difficult to ensure the safety of the school campuses with so many people in and out of the building. Therefore, if schools that act as polling sites are closed it ensures greater safety of the students and staff,” she said.
Greer said that her plans for future election days involve increasing the security inside and outside of the school. “We increase the number of police patrols to help not only with the safety and security of the building but also to ensure the safety of those walking and crossing the streets. We are also making safety considerations in the design of the new high school building with our ability to close off certain parts of the building and that the main building where students are located cannot be accessed by the public. For major elections and primary elections, we either plan for half-day classes or we do not hold school on that day,” Greer added.
She said that the Town of Sharon undergoes vast communication and collaboration between several departments in the names of both public safety and school safety. “First we collaborate with our Town Clerk and Sharon Police prior to any election days to discuss safety measures for our students but also to ensure that the polling site is secure as well.”
She said that school officials make sure that only one entrance is available for voters to enter and exit through, with the pathway to the rest of the school building being blocked off by barriers, staff, and other school officials. “On election days, the campus monitor and school administrators monitor the building especially near the polling site often and closely. In addition, voters are only allowed to enter through a certain entrance which is closest to the polling area,” Greer said.
The downside for many working families is that if schools were closed on election days, then families would be forced to find alternative care for their children. Otherwise, they have to either use a sick day or leave their child home alone, when it may not be entirely safe for them to do so.
In an online Facebook poll of more than 170 people from Sharon, roughly 30% of participants said that leaving children at home and unattended is more dangerous than allowing people into a high school with possibly low-restricted access. Sharon has not had an incident with a violent person entering a school through the voting facilities and bumps up the security for election days, so this option of closing schools does not appear in many Sharon residents’ minds as a safe option.
Of the more 170 participants in the poll, roughly 52% of people voted that schools should not close on election days, but 57% of the same people voted that schools should remain open. The 52% responded to the first question in the poll, while 57% responded to the last question.
What swayed the opinions of the 5% to the argument that schools should not close on election day?
The second question in the poll read, “With many schools being the primary voting location, people can enter the school with largely unrestricted access. Does this sound safe?” Of the over 170 participants, roughly 72% responded “No,” as in the previously described statement did not outline a safe situation.
The next question in the poll read, “When schools close district-wide, parents of children of all ages have to find alternative care for their children at often expensive costs. Many parents can’t afford this and have to leave their child unsupervised, which can be dangerous for many children. Do you think this is safe?” Of the over 170 participants, roughly 80% responded “No,” as in the previously described statement did not outline a safe situation.
It’s true that the questions are clearly loaded. They were designed as such, however, to portray the wide-reaching extreme opinions on both sides of the argument.
Sharon High School Resource Officer Mike Hocking said that he is opposed to schools remaining open on election days. “Yes, I have been a huge proponent of closing the schools during election days,” Hocking said.
He said that he does not want people walking into a school while school is in session. “I feel this way because you should not have outside people entering a school when it is in session. Also, traffic is a major concern. I would like to see a different polling place in town in order to elevate any danger to the school. We, the police, work with the school in order to ensure safety on days of an election,” Hocking added.
“Extra Officers are added to the school. I believe a total of three extra Officers are added throughout the day in order to ensure safety. There are many moving parts to changing this process. I have met with multiple people on the town’s end and the superintendent of schools. We have been making strides to improve the situation. For example, during the big presidential elections, the superintendent has built in the day as an off day into the school’s calendar. Hopefully, in the near future we can eliminate all voting from the school when it’s in session,” he said.