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Election Day is not a School Holiday

By Helen Gym on Apr 27, 2009 08:41 AM

Even President Obama's polling place is at a school. Chicago Public Schools remained open on election day.

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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Comments (8)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 27, 2009 9:51 pm

As a teacher and parent, I dread June 22 and 23. I teach in a neighborhood school with no air conditioning. If today is an predictor, many students spent the day complaining and refusing to work because of the heat. I spent the day trying to convince students what we were doing was fun, important and worth exerting some energy. There is a lot happening - "walk-throughs," benchmark tests, AP exams, etc.

How many students do they think will show up on June 22 and 23? If the SDP PD planned for May 19 is like the last all day PD, it is another "thrown together" mess with no continuity.

May 19 is the week before Memorial Day - the last week to really "push" to get things done. Post Memorial Day, especially in high schools, is when things slow down. Seniors begin senior activities and students know grades close within two weeks.

This is another example of those outside of schools making decisions for those in schools. I assume this is for the convenience of the ward bosses - not what make sense for students.

Submitted by Helen Gym on May 15, 2009 8:16 pm

Parents United will definitely be checking on attendance figures on these days. Thanks for posting!

Submitted by Gretchen Cowell (not verified) on April 30, 2009 7:08 pm

If children come first, as CEO Ackerman says, and transparency is important, why is the school district paying a large, unspecified amount to tack on a school day on June 24, an obvious educational loser, instead of holding school on May 19, when the school day would be more meaningful and would not cost anything (since the staff is already being paid for the day and the buildings will be open for primary election day). The amount being spend for this educational loser is almost certainly enough to hire three school librarians for a year.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 30, 2009 8:12 pm

Gretchen Cowell...there is a novel idea...Ackerman is getting the nearly half a million dollar salary to come up with the crackerjack theory of "children come first..."

And, we see that in school district policy..."children, indeed, come first..."

That is why the district can boast of a 50 percent drop out rate...and why this June 50 percent of their wards...the students...will have dropped out...those are not my stats...check them...ask the Philadelphia Bar...

Why isn't school open on May 19th?

They are in the suburbs...

I will tell you why...and I am no rocket scientist...

If the schools are open...the neighborhood schools...residents...voters...adults...will be able to peer in and see how out of control these schools are and what an embarrassment they are...

Close them up now...on May 19th...because you don't want the public to see what a mess the neighborhood schools are...

If you don't believe me...go unannounced to any Philly neighborhood school and you will see chaos, cursing, and cacophony...

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on May 16, 2009 11:39 am

By closing the schools next Tuesday to the kids that will ensure a four day weekend for many families. Not only will kids lose out on Tuesday, but many will take off on Monday as well. Smart move 440!

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on May 16, 2009 6:24 pm

Yes, smart move...

I surmise that the district closed the schools on May 19th...on election day...because the citizenry can see how chaotic the neighborhood schools are...not a good idea when 440 wants to fleece Harrisburg of a couple of hundred million dollars...

Close the schools so the public doesn't know how out of control the neighborhood ones are...

Submitted by Helen Gym on May 16, 2009 10:07 pm

Updates on Election Day is not a School Holiday story

  1. Parents United took a poll of parents about whether they thought students should be IN SCHOOL on election day. We got over 100 responses within 48 hours of releasing two polls on different parent listserves. Almost 90% of the respondents (92 of 103) answered YES: School should be open and students should be in session. 60% of the respondents felt strongly enough about the issue that they wanted Parents United to look into it.
  2. The Mayor's Education Office did not want to get involved in the issue. The media had reported that the decision was made via a "city partnership" but the Education Office stated it was not a decisionmaking party on this issue nor did it want to meet with parents at this time about it.
  3. So we landed at the County Board of Elections where a very opinionated spokesperson, Fred Voigt, argued the case. He initially said that there were two reasons his agency advocated for schools closing on election day: student safety and a federal lawsuit around disability rights which he claimed required schools to close to students.
  4. We did our homework and checked in with the School District of Philadelphia. In the previous decades during which school was held during election day, there has not been a serious incident (they can recall) which was directly related to election day.
  5. Then we checked in with the Disability Rights Network, plaintiffs on the lawsuit that Mr. Voigt referenced. Mr. Voigt was frankly wrong about his interpretation of the lawsuit. The lawsuit mandates handicapped access to polling locations. In some neighborhoods, one of the few guaranteed handicap accessible buildings is the local school. However, the settlement agreement contains no mandate about students being out of school on election day, only that the polling locations be handicap accessible.
  6. Finally we grabbed Tomas Hanna, Chief of School Operations at this week's SRC meeting. He said his office has received a number of parent complaints, but said it is too late at this point to change things. Parents United pointed out the District's error in not talking to parents about the dilemma before making a decision on extending the school year. The SRC in fact has already approved next year's calendar which has election days built in as student holidays. We said we'll be taking up this issue this summer again.


Submitted by howard (not verified) on July 6, 2009 2:33 pm

I agree, I do not see the significance.

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