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Fed-Up Parents Say Primary Day Causes Safety Risk at Schools

By Emily Frost | January 20, 2014 7:34am
 On the Upper West Side, where voter turnout is high, schools complained of a disruptive, unsafe atmosphere on Primary Day, Sept. 10, 2013. 
On the Upper West Side, where voter turnout is high, schools complained of a disruptive, unsafe atmosphere on Primary Day, Sept. 10, 2013. 
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents recalling horror stories about Primary Day are pushing for changes to the way elections are held at local schools, asking for the day to be made a professional development day rather than a regular school day.

Jeanne Morland, a parent at P.S 84 on West 92nd Street, said because of high voter turnout in the neighborhood, the K-5 school was jam-packed with voters and kids on Sept. 10, with no extra security guards offered by the Board of Elections. People were flowing out of the school through multiple exits. 

"It wasn’t a very safe situation," she said. 

"There was a tendency of some of the voters to visit the rest of the school," said Ira Mitchneck, a parent at P.S. 9, of his school's Primary Day experience. 

Eric Shuffler, co-chair of Community Board 7's Youth, Education and Libraries Committee, said he'd been asking for feedback on schools' experiences on Primary Day and was surprised by the vociferous reaction from principals and parents. 

"Parents are concerned, but it’s also from the administrators who are seeing that it affects their ability to manage the school. There’s an intensity I’m not used to hearing and seeing on this issue," he said. 

At P.S. 9, there were 16 different election districts represented and 30 to 40 election staff members in the cafeteria, Mitchneck said. 

You need practically a whole bathroom just for the Board of Elections [staff], let alone the teachers and [school] staff members," he said. 

Joli Golden, a former PTA president at the Anderson School, said election workers used the same bathrooms as the middle schoolers, which struck her as unsafe.

She said the public sometimes behaved in an inappropriate manner toward students, like "directly addressing them with profanity," and acting "surprised to see children."

At both P.S. 9 and P.S. 84, the free breakfast and lunches served to at least a third of the students were disrupted by election machines blocking the way into the cafeteria. At P.S. 75, where 70 percent of students receive a free lunch, teachers had to convert three classrooms into makeshift cafeterias, a parent said. 

John Decatur, the PTA co-president at P.S. 75, said that because only the side entrance to the school was wheelchair accessible, voters had to pass a whole hallway of kindergarten classrooms to get to the cafeteria to vote, which prompted safety concerns from parents and teachers.

Leading up to Primary Day, election equipment arrived almost a week early at the school and "remained blocking our main hallway," he said. 

Next year I’ll keep my kid home that day," said Decatur.

At a recent meeting to discuss the issues with Community Board 7's Youth, Education and Libraries Committee, parents decided that extra security and better coordination with the Department of Education would help, but not go far enough. Schools are already closed on the Election Day in November, so they pressed for Primary Days to become professional development days for staff.

"There is a movement afoot among some folks to get the DOE to close the school on Primary Day. If we can get together, I think that between now and then we can come up to a solution," said Lauren Schuster, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, calling the stories she'd heard "outrageous."

Cynthia Doty, a local Democratic Party District Leader who said she'd been working with the Board of Elections, explained part of the reason area schools were much more crowded this year was because of a series of lawsuits against the Board of Elections requiring greater ADA compliance, which removed a number of schools as election sites.

Some of the schools removed from the roster this year, like P.S. 87, may not have been properly surveyed, she said. 

"We’re trying to see if there aren’t some remediations that can happen... Some of them were very simple alterations that needed to be made," she said. 

The Board of Elections did not respond to request for comment.