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Published: Wednesday, 11/1/2006

Some local schools with polling stations won't hold classes

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Cline Cline
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With school districts nationwide redoubling efforts to lock schools and watch visitors in the wake of a recent upswing in violence, the practice of using school buildings as polling locations has become an increasing concern for some educators.

Perrysburg school district is the latest in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan to cancel classes this year on Election Day, scheduling students off Nov. 7 to alleviate safety and security concerns.

"As long as anyone can remember, the schools in Perrysburg have been used as polling stations," Superintendent Michael Cline said.

Mr. Cline said it would be impossible to uphold security procedures, such as screening visitors, while allowing voters free access to the schools.

A group of citizens in Gahanna, Ohio, near Columbus, successfully fought two years ago against the use of schools as polling places for that reason.

Mr. Cline emphasized, however, that the move by Perrysburg schools was not a reaction to recent school violence across the country.

The decision to make Nov. 7 an "in-service" for teachers was made 18 months ago, he said.

The Oregon school district has kept children out of school on election day for about three years, Superintendent John Hall said.

Mr. Hall would not say whether security concerns were a factor in the decision.

"It makes it better for everyone," he explained. "The more distractions students have with people in the hallways, the harder it is to teach."

Washington Local Schools - one of two large school districts in the city of Toledo - asked the Lucas County Board of Elections four years ago not to use its buildings for elections.

Toledo Public Schools, the region's largest school district, will hold classes as usual on Election Day.

Crystal Ellis, the district's chief of staff and a former superintendent, said 29 schools will be open to the public for voting while students are in class.

"We've always thought it was a good thing to have the polling locations at the schools because it brings the community into the schools and gives them a chance to see the buildings," Mr. Ellis said.

Security is "obviously a concern," he added, but he said the district did not want to make students stay home that day.

The risk of someone using Election Day as a means of entering a school to commit violence "is a concern, particularly with what is occurring in our society, but that potential exists every day," Mr. Ellis said.

"We'd end up curbing our freedoms if we made everything so secure," he said.

On days other than Election Day, most Toledo Public buildings are kept locked, and visitors must use a buzzer system with cameras to gain access.

Suburban schools, like those in Perrysburg and Oregon, generally keep open a door, which is monitored by staff. Visitors are expected to check in with the main office.

Jill Kelly, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said she has suggested that schools cancel classes and hold in-service days for teachers on Election Day so students will not be in the buildings.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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