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No to School as Polling Site

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 12:20

With student safety in mind — and an eye on a conflict with an annual milestone event — the East Hampton School Board on Tuesday rejected a contract with the Suffolk County Board of Elections that would have allowed the John M. Marshall Elementary School to be used as a polling site for the June 25 local primaries.

It’s an action the board has taken before, having refused to sign the same contract in years past, though in vain, as the Board of Elections moved right in anyway when it came time to vote. But it’s a little more personal this time around, as the June 25 primary conflicts with the fifth-grade graduation ceremony at the school. School officials said they only learned this week of the primary date.

The school board is poised to “fight city hall,” as John Ryan Sr., a board member, put it during Tuesday’s board meeting. And J.P. Foster, the board’s president, said the members all agreed the elementary school shouldn’t be used as a polling site anymore, particularly this year.

“Three or four years ago . . . we actually worked with the Board of Elections and they were going to try to find some alternate polling places,” Mr. Foster said. “We don’t seem like we’re really getting anywhere.”

There are four election districts that rely on East Hampton school facilities as polling sites, he explained. Two use a district office conference room — a recent change from the high school auditorium — and two use the elementary school.

“We’ve spent so much time, effort, and money on security,” Mr. Foster said. “I’m willing to make a compromise and put all four of them here [at the district office]. I won’t sign the contract, personally, the way it’s written today.”

Earlier in the meeting, Cara Weaver, a parent and school district employee, had implored the board to find other

options.

“In this day and age, it does not make sense to have any of our school buildings used as public polling places when students are present,” Ms. Weaver said. “As we have learned in recent years, there is no small community immune to school tragedy.”

Richard Burns, the school superintendent, said the district would probably not be able to move the fifth-grade graduation.

“If there was parking at the middle school, there would be an option, but we can’t accommodate 300 parents with vehicles at the middle school,” Mr. Burns said. “It’s so structured. It’s too unfair. I’m sure there are parents who have taken [time] off from work.”

The primary vote would also pose safety risks to about 500 other students in the other grades attending school that day, he said.

Christina DeSanti, vice president of the school board, urged the Board of Elections to use other facilities, such as the East Hampton Library or fire stations, as polling sites. She also urged parents to ask local officials to intervene with the Board of Elections.

Anita Katz, a commissioner with the County Board of Elections, said in an email yesterday that the board plans to meet with East Hampton school officials. “Many schools have this issue this year and worked with the board to find new locations,” she said.

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