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Elections Staff Calls Police on Principal for Holding Lunch in Voting Area

By Emily Frost | September 10, 2014 4:54pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — A principal at an Upper West Side elementary school who tried to let her students eat lunch in their cafeteria on Tuesday almost ended up under arrest — after irate Board of Elections staff overseeing Primary Day voting there called the police on her while the kids looked on, according to the NYPD and elected officials.

P.S. 84's Principal Robin Sundick thought she was cleared to use a portion of the cafeteria for student lunch Tuesday, according to PTA co-president Martin Wallace. She even stayed late Monday to cordon off a section where students could sit and not disturb the voting booths, he said.

But when the first group of students arrived for lunch on Tuesday at 11 a.m., BOE staff told Sundick that the students weren't allowed inside the lunchroom, said City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who went to the school Tuesday after hearing about the incident.

Sundick began to argue on behalf of her students, prompting the BOE to call police.

"She really stood firmly until the higher-ups and police were there," explained Rosenthal, "Once she was surrounded, that's when she let it go."

The BOE called the NYPD's Election Supervisor, who soon arrived with 24th Precinct Capt. James Dennedy, said the precinct's commanding officer, Capt. Marlon Larin.

Larin blamed the incident on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which he said prohibits voting booth space from being changed.

"The schools are under a federal mandate to comply with the ADA," Larin said. "Therefore, the metrics of the space being used cannot be tampered with during the voting process."

The students ultimately ate lunch in their classrooms and the auditorium, but not before witnessing the traumatic ordeal, Rosenthal said.

"There were children eating lunch who watched it," she said. 

Neither Sundick nor the DOE responded to a request for comment regarding the incident at P.S. 84.

DOE officials declined to comment. The BOE said it was investigating the matter, but did not comment further.

The West 92nd Street school was allowed to let students eat lunch in part of the cafeteria on Primary Day until last year, parents said.

"The BOE has zero consideration for the welfare of the students," said Community Board 7 Youth, Education and Libraries board co-chair Eric Shuffler, who is also the PTA president at P.S. 199. "They’re going to do what they’re going to do and the school be damned."

The incident comes on the heels of heated discussion over whether city schools should be closed on Primary Day. Many advocates have pushed to make the day a school holiday for fear of students' safety amid an influx of strangers into the school. For example, many schools complained of wandering voters interacting with students and using their bathrooms.

But the Education Department has left the schedule intact.

"The fact that the DOE doesn't make this a personal development day so the kids can stay out of the school is just ridiculous," Wallace said.   

Rosenthal said she is requesting the Council hold a hearing on the issue and will push forward legislation to make it a professional development day. 

Parents at several schools across the district that hosted Primary Day voting Tuesday said they plan to continue to lobby the DOE to make sure kids are not in school on Primary Day.

"It's not too much to expect that our children eat in a safe and comfortable location, every day," she said. "I call on NYS to make Primary Day not a school day for children."