When voters line up at school-based polling places Nov. 4, some students will have a front-row seat, and others will watch what is widely predicted to be a historic turnout from home. It all depends on where they live.
Nationwide, states and school districts follow a patchwork of policies on whether public schools are open or closed on Election Day. Legislators and officials consider factors that include concerns about student safety and security threats and a simple desire to avoid operational headaches.
According to a soon-to-be-published survey conducted by Educational Research Service, a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, Va., only five states—Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, and West Virginia—mandate school closure on the day of a general election. All others leave calendar decisions up to the local districts.
There are few discernible trends on where schools are open or closed, as even some of the largest states take different tacks.
For example, in California, local school boards have the authority to close schools, said Pam Slater, a public-information officer for the California Department of Education, but they almost never do so for Election Day. In New York state, on the other hand, many districts are closed, including those in New York City, which has 1.1 million-students.
“It does seem very random,” said Kathy Christie, the chief of staff at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.
Policymaking, however scattered, is anything but arbitrary for states and districts themselves.
In Randolph, Mass., after an 8-year-old girl was struck and critically injured by an 86-year-old driver on his way to vote in the Feb. 5 presidential primary, school officials re-examined their election procedures. Randolph and several other Massachusetts districts that historically have remained open on Election Day will be closed on Tuesday of next week.
Disagreement remains, however, on the wisdom of closing schools on Election Day, with some observers arguing that seeing the election process provides a true-to-life lesson for students.
“The citizenship piece is huge,” Ms. Christie said. “It’s important for kids to see that people come out to vote, not just their parents. They don’t always get to see that.”
But Kenneth S. Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm, disagrees. His concerns include the possibility of dangerous intruders in schools and increased traffic, none of which he thinks is outweighed by the appeal to civic education.
“It’s a hollow argument,” he said. “Students aren’t observing and participating; they’re not in the booth when the ballots are being cast. They are just trying to get to class without tripping over a voter. They don’t need to see dozens and dozens of bodies to understand the concept that voting is important.” ...
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
This from Ed Week by way of KSBA: