Schools are convenient one stop shops for a lot of public services outside of education. Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is putting health clinics in some of their schools. Just recently, many schools were used as voting precincts.
Safety is a valid concern, however schools aren’t on lock down 24/7 and frequently unlock their doors to the public for various school events. Nevertheless, Jon Gargis with the MDJ Online is reporting that some Cobb parents aren’t happy with the additional risks of having polling precincts at schools.
Cobb parents express concern over schools’ use as polling places
by Jon Gargis
As tens of thousands of Cobb County residents weighed in on the presidential race Tuesday, parents went online to express concerns that their children’s schools remained in session as voters were heading there to cast their ballots.
Of the 144 precincts in Cobb County, 57 are at schools in the Cobb School District, five are at schools in the Marietta School District and one is at Dominion Christian High.
It’s the use of the county schools as polling places that concerned parents on Facebook. A post on the “Cobb County School District Unofficial Community Page” had drawn nearly 100 comments, as well as spinoff discussions, by late Wednesday afternoon. Many of those who commented expressed concern that opening the school to the public jeopardized student safety. Several members gave the MDJ permission to use their comments for publication.
“Just because something has been done and safe in the past doesn’t mean it is or will continue to be,” said Julie Goldberg, an east Cobb mother of two. “Times are vastly different today. Sad to say, but unfortunately, our new reality.”
The issue of voting occurring at schools was also a safety concern to at least one student.
“My 8-year-old third-grader was nervous upon arrival seeing signs that ‘guns are not permitted.’ I think we all speak to how we feel as parents with the safety of schools being polling sites, but I realized today that my little one was alarmed by it as well,” said Debbie McLaughlin, co-president of Garrison Mill Elementary’s PTA.
Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said Wednesday he was not aware of any incidents that occurred at schools that served as polling places. He said those locations make every effort to segment off the polling locations to keep students and the voting public separate.
He added that he had received a few emails from parents asking why the district remained in session.
“The way the calendar worked out this year, we were not able to take the voting day as a teacher workday, but what we did do is reallocate our resource officers to make sure the polling locations were covered, and we also worked with local PD, whether that be Cobb or the municipalities, to make sure that we had increased patrols at the schools that were polling locations.”
The school district is not the only entity concerned with safety at their polling places.
“We have sheriff’s office deputies that are assigned to us on election day, and we station them at the schools or even polling places that have daycares, and we’ll put them where they’re requested,” said Janine Eveler, director of the Cobb elections office. “And we have a staff of deputies assigned to just rove around the polling places, and make periodic visits to certain ones in a geographic area they’re deployed to.”
Some parents also questioned why the district did not schedule a day off for students on the election day when others in nearby districts did so.
Tuesday was a professional learning day — a student holiday — for Marietta City Schools. Students were also out of school Tuesday in neighboring Paulding County, which also utilizes several public schools for its polling places.
Other metro Atlanta school districts, such as Cherokee and Gwinnett county schools, remained open Tuesday despite having facilities that hosted voting precincts.
Angela Huff, chief of staff for Cobb County Schools, said the district has not scheduled student holidays to coincide with past primary election days, and only in the last few years has scheduled staff workdays on the general election dates. The calendars for the next two school years will give students the day off on those November election days.
Ragsdale said considerations to close the school for election days can be a “tough call.”
“When you’re looking at the calendar, and you’ve got so many breaks and days off and those kinds of things, you have to make sure the calendar balances,” he said.
Other parents said that traffic flow and parking at their schools were concerns, especially at student drop off and pick up times.
“Our school already lacks adequate parking. This compounded that situation,” said Katrina Bishop, a Pitner Elementary parent.
But not every parent was against the schools being used for polling. Becky Slemons said she was unaware of any incidents occurring at schools that have hosted elections in the past. Her children’s school, Addison Elementary, had voters going to the gym, away from the students, and administrators and extra teachers came out to the car line to ensure smooth operations during student drop off and pick up. Student security and safety, she added, remained intact during the day.
“I think it’s an important civic lesson for students to see their fellow citizens taking part in how government is set up to work,” Slemons said. “It’s one day, and we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.”