Election Day security risks concern Washington County Board of Education

Nathan Baker • Dec 5, 2013 at 10:08 PM

The Washington County Board of Education elected to send next academic year’s calendar back to committee for revisions rather than hold school on Election Day in the first week of school.

While considering two school calendar options recommended by the Calendar Committee on Thursday, board members expressed concerns that having a regular school day Aug. 7, the day of the state primaries and county general elections, could bring security risks to the seven schools in the Washington County school district that traditionally serve as polling places.

Both recommended calendars start school in the first full week of August, one Aug. 5, the other Aug. 6.

“It’s just a matter of safety,” board member David Hammond said. “In light of everything we’ve discussed in the safety assessments, anytime you have a school open to the public and people in and out of it, it makes that school more vulnerable and also would be a harder job for law enforcement.”

The county Election Commission conducts polling at seven county schools: Fall Branch Elementary, Sulphur Springs Elementary, Boones Creek Middle, Cherokee Elementary, West View Elementary, Lamar Elementary and Asbury Family Resource Center.

Some board members proposed asking the commission to find new locations for voting in those districts, but the idea was quickly quashed by members who were afraid there was not enough time between now and the election.

“If you change it, Ma and Pa Kettle, who have been going to this school for 20 years to vote, they’re going to have a fit,” board member Clarence Mabe said.

As consensus turned toward closing school to students on Election Day, members proposed a number of ideas for affecting the change, from having school on Presidents Day to encouraging Director of Schools Ron Dykes to call a snow day on that summer date.

Finally, the board decided it best to shift the proposed schedules up a day to compensate for the day off, starting on either Aug. 4 or 5, but to no action on the calendars to allow the Calendar Committee to change its recommendation to reflect those wishes.

Once the board approves the proposed calendars, the district’s teachers will have the option to vote on them. After that vote, the board will hold a final vote to finalize next year’s calendar.

By its own bylaws, the board of education is required to approve a calendar for the next year before the last school day of the year before it.

In other business, board Chairman Chad Williams said the district’s teachers voted overwhelmingly to allow the Washington County Education Association to represent them in the district’s first collaborative conference to set a new contract with the educators.

Out of 576 teachers eligible to vote, 88 percent, or 505 voted. Of those, 499 voted to hold collaborative conferencing, with 455 of those electing the WCEA to represent them.

Under the state’s 2011 collaborative conferencing law, which replaces collective bargaining with teachers unions, at least 15 percent of the district’s eligible teachers must petition to hold collaborative conferencing, then 15 percent must vote to allow collaborative conferencing and choose a representative.

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