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Election Day is not a School Holiday

  • pollingplace
    Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya

As a parent, I’ve never been a fan of the policy to close school on election days – a ridiculous practice that has been going on since the Vallas administration. But the latest news that the city is forcing schools to add two extra days to the school calendar because they want to close schools for the May 19th election has me particularly irritated.

First and foremost, the primary function of schools is schooling. Period. Since when did certain city officials get to determine that 168,000 children should be somewhere else on a perfectly legitimate day during the year for their own convenience?

Second, I think it’s great that most schools are polling places. As a former teacher, it used to be one of my favorite days of the year – a built-in civics lesson on participatory democracy. Classrooms across the city used to engage in mock elections, mock polling, brushing up on elections both big and small. What educator would cede that opportunity with children?

Election day, for most people, is also the only time during the year that many people have a chance to step into their neighborhood school. And I, for one, think people need to see schools living and breathing with the very kids who go there. Erasing the children from the picture removes the very purpose of the essential role schools function in our communities.

Finally, I’m particularly irritated by the claim that city officials want to close schools because they worry about children’s safety. For decades schools have remained open during election day. I’m stunned that these unnamed city officials feel like these latest conveniences have suddenly become political legacies allowing them to impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, families, and school staff in the region. In addition, it’s not exactly cheap to open 268 school buildings and pay staff to hang around in supposed professional development seminars.

The March snowstorm took us all by surprise, but our kids and parents shouldn’t have to pay for two extra days at the end of the year, when a perfectly valuable educational opportunity awaits us on May 19th.

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