newsEducation

Should Dallas schools cancel classes on Election Day to keep kids safe?

DISD considers a calendar change.

Update: This story will be updated.

Dallas students — like many others — may be staying home on Election Day.

Public campuses across the country have long been used as polling places for casting votes. But now Dallas ISD trustees are considering whether to turn Nov. 8 into a virtual workday for teachers in response to safety concerns.

School security is top of mind for many families and educators after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.

The board will debate the plan during a Thursday briefing, according to its agenda.

Trustees are being asked to approve the calendar amendment “due to safety concerns of campuses being used as polling sites and individuals having open access to more than half of the District campuses.”

Increasingly, schools are confronting this conundrum: Campuses — with their large parking lots, wheelchair-accessible entrances, spacious gymnasiums and cafeterias, and positions as hubs of the community — make excellent polling locations. But some question now if it’s safe to allow thousands of voters to stream into buildings as children learn.

Richardson ISD canceled classes during the 2018 election, also citing safety reasons following the deadly Santa Fe High School shooting that year. RISD already scheduled this year’s Election Day as a staff professional development day.

“We have thousands of people who enter our campuses,” school officials said in 2018. “And while we can monitor that while they’re in there … we can’t run background checks on everyone who shows up to vote.”

Garland, Keller and Mesquite schools are also scheduled to use Nov. 8 as a student holiday this year. But several other large districts in the region are planning to hold classes that day.

The National Conference for State Legislatures reports a “slow trend” away from using schools as polling places while students are in class. Four states require that schools close when used as polling places, while a handful of others encourage it.

Under Texas law, districts may not prohibit the use of a school building as a polling place. But in 2017, lawmakers moved to require that all campuses selected as polling places have a security plan.

The Texas School Safety Center put out a three-page checklist for how to conduct safe elections on campuses.

Among their tips: “Do not allow anyone, even voters waiting in line, to prop doors open. Do not open locked exterior doors for anyone.”

Guidance from the Texas Association of School Boards states that districts should “strategically locate polling places on school property to minimize interaction between voters and students and disruption to campus operations.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Breaking News

Get the breaking news

Get email alerts on breaking news stories as soon as they happen.

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy