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NYPD Needs to Boost School Security on Primary Day, Parents Say

By Emily Frost | March 24, 2014 10:56am
 Voters line up to vote at P.S. 87 on Election Day. Parents have said the influx of strangers in schools during Primary Day is dangerous. 
Voters line up to vote at P.S. 87 on Election Day. Parents have said the influx of strangers in schools during Primary Day is dangerous. 
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents and community leaders outraged by what they described as "shocking" and "inappropriate" actions by adults who voted at local schools on Primary Day are calling for increased police presence and safety enforcement at the polls.

Parents from a half dozen Upper West Side schools that set up Primary Day voting booths said that unsupervised voters were allowed to wander the halls, use student bathrooms, mingle with students and curse in front of students during past election days — raising serious concerns about their children's security.

At P.S. 84, parent leaders said voters were allowed to enter the main school building using numerous exits and that no one was assigned to direct them out of the building following their vote. At P.S. 75, voters were "mingling" with students on their way to the voting booths in the cafeteria, parent representatives said.

Parents, along with Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal and Community Board 7, are lobbying for Primary Day to be made a staff professional development day — in which students get the day off from school — in the same way that students are not required to attend school on Election Day in November. 

But after their efforts to get the school day dismissed were rebuffed by the DOE, advocates have asked the NYPD to intervene.

"We’re also trying to make sure that if schools are used in the next polling cycle that it’s done in a way that the pretty crazy things that happened don’t happen again," said Assemblywoman Rosenthal staffer Paul Sawyier.

In a March 20 letter addressed to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Assemblywoman Rosenthal, City Councilwoman Rosenthal and CB7 members took issue with the current policy of assigning only a single NYPD officer to schools on Primary Day. In addition, they said, they are concerned that the officer's primary role is to oversee voting, rather than to ensure students' safety.

"It is the responsibility of the NYPD to guarantee the safety of our students and prevent tragedy on election days," the letter said, adding that increased school safety precautions across the country, "all this careful planning goes out the proverbial window on primary election day, when strangers are permitted to enter school buildings and roam the halls with no supervision whatsoever."

The letter also warned of multiple reports of "profane and inappropriate language" that was directed at students and "shocking" interactions between voters and children.

Eric Shuffler, co-chairman of CB7's Education Committee, said that the problem is exacerbated beause of the volume of voters assigned to the area's schools.

At P.S. 9 alone, voters from 16 different election districts were assigned to the building during last fall's primary day, forcing school staff to step in as temporary security guards, he said.

"There needs to be a more robust police presence so that the school personnel don’t have to step up," Shuffler told residents gathered at a recent meeting to discuss the issue. 

"It’s a huge safety issue, not just for children but for the teachers as well," said Marisa Maack, Helen Rosenthal's chief of staff. 

Neither the NYPD nor the Board of Elections responded to request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the DOE would not comment on the possibility of making Primary Day a professional development day, but said the setup is designed to keep voters away from students.

"The voting booths normally are in a gym or a section of the cafeteria away from students," explained DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg. "Our Constitution allows for voting, and public schools are used to give the public access to voting booths close to where they live."