By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor
Typically, conversations regarding school safety are addressed at school board meetings, but Grove City Council took up the issue at its meeting in early October.
The topic was initiated by Grove City resident Courtney Thomas, whose son attends Buckeye Woods Elementary School. She is concerned that school buildings in the South-Western City Schools District are used as polling locations while students are in class.
“Normally, the doors are locked, and visitors need to be buzzed in,” said Thomas. “But, on Election Day, the doors are open to the public.”
Thomas said she decided to speak at the council meeting to raise public awareness regarding the issue. She told council members that she did bring up her concerns with officials in the school district, but felt her fears were dismissed.
“When it comes to your child, safe enough in never enough,” she said.
Council president Ted Berry said that while the city does not have authority over the schools, city leaders are doing all they can to keep students safe.
“Our safety director and our police department take public safety very serious, and they do everything they can on Election Day to make sure to have a visible presence in the schools,” said Berry.
Thomas said she believes the city’s safety forces will be as reactive as possible but said, “Us parents are trying to be proactive.”
Thomas told council members that she has started a petition to close the schools on Election Day (Nov. 8) and has signatures from more than 500 parents.
Evan Debo, executive director of communications for the South-Western City Schools District, said district officials take concerns of safety seriously. He said they have not received a petition from parents but have taken about a dozen calls from parents at Buckeye Woods regarding the issue.
According to Debo, there are 13 schools in the district that are used as polling locations, and this has been a practice for several decades.
“To my knowledge, there have been no problems,” he said.
Debo said that while he cannot share all the district’s safety measures with the public, he can say that there will be an increased police presence at the polling locations.
“We work with local law enforcement. This will be a visible thing families can see,” he said.
The suggestion of closing school to the students on Election Day was brought up at a recent school board meeting.
School board member Chris Boso said, “I know we are going to have police officers at each polling station, and I know we can’t cancel school that day this close out, but there are a lot of people concerned.”
Boso asked if the district could consider canceling classes on Election Day in the future.
In response, Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said, “If we can build it into future calendars without creating some kind of major glitch, we’ll be glad to take a look at that.”
If the school district were to cancel classes on Election Day, Wise said they would have to determine if they cancel classes during the primaries.
“For example, there was a May primary,” said Wise. “That was done without issue.
“Do we want to draw those distinctions? Do we want to cancel class for both spring and fall elections?”
If a concerned parent wanted to keep their child from class on Election Day, it would be an excused absence per the policy of South-Western City Schools. However, that parent would need to notify the district or the school five days before the planned absence and the student would still be responsible for the missed course work.
According to Aaron Sellers, the public information officer with the Franklin County Board of Elections, school buildings are the best locations for voting, and it accounts for about a third of polling locations in the county. He said school buildings are ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant, there is ample parking, and they are publicly funded.
“They check all the boxes,” said Sellers.
Sellers said the board of elections has been contacted by concerned parents in the Grove City area.
“We all understand the concern,” he said.
Sellers said the board of elections works with local police on security at polling sites but said it would be up to the school district to decide whether to cancel class when voting is taking place. He also suggested parents contact their state representatives, who could vote on a statewide measure to cancel class on Election Day.
Grove City councilman Mark Sigrist thanked Thomas for her remarks at the city council meeting and said things are certainly different today regarding school safety.
“Keep raising awareness,” Sigrist said. “These are important topics.”