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Parents question school polling place security

Dec. 18, 2013

Greendale — Schools are not safe when they are used as polling places during elections, members of the Highland View Elementary PTO argued Monday.

Several PTO members asked the School Board to reconsider its policy of hosting polling places inside the district's schools after parents were given an annual school survey regarding scheduling changes.

"Unfortunately, this comes on the anniversary of a very terrible tragedy last year in Newtown and on the heels of another school shooting," Highland View Elementary PTO President Aleks Skibicki said at the meeting. "It makes this issue all the more important and at the top of our minds, the top of our thoughts here."

Parents argued that even with village officials directing voter traffic on election days, relaxed security posed a danger to students.

"For as much work that's put into the district's school security … to have a few days in the year where the doors are thrown open for anyone" is unsafe, Skibicki said later.

Currently, all three grade schools and the high school are used as polling places.

The Highland View Elementary PTO is the first group of parents to oppose the polling locations before the board, Communications Director Kitty Goyette said.

"It's been an issue that's been brought up by parents throughout the year, but it didn't gain much momentum until we saw that the school district was considering changing it," Skibicki said.

Relocation issues

Finding different locations for polling stations would be difficult, however.

"It will be hard to find alternative locations because of the state's accessibility standards," Village Manager Todd Michaels said. "There will be about 9,000 residents voting, and we need facilities that accommodate them."

Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, polling places in Wisconsin must meet certain requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure accessibility for all voters.

The district's schools are ADA compliant; some other facilities are not, Michaels said.

"That's where it becomes a problem," he said. "We're already using the Safety Center, but we can't just move everyone to that (facility)."

At the meeting, the PTO suggested reaching out to local churches for help hosting polling places.

"We don't control them (the churches)," Michaels said, and even then, "most of the churches have schools ... and we're not going to move a polling place from one school to another school."

The village also would want to avoid establishing temporary polling places, because "we don't want to continue switching locations, making it difficult for residents to vote," Michaels said.

As the village and school district try to resolve the issue, schools will continue to receive increased security during elections, Michaels said.

Looking for options

"My goal is to work with the village manager and the Greendale Police Department to ensure our buildings are safe at all times, including election days," Greendale School District Superintendent John Tharp said. "We just have to figure out what will work best for Greendale."

Results from the parent survey about schedule changes have not yet been compiled, he said, but "not having school on voting days is certainly an option."

Parents will be consulted before any definite changes to the schedule are implemented, he added.

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