Education

Many Triangle schools will close or open late on Election Day

Voters fill the stations as they cast their ballots at Precinct 01-44, Millbrook Elem. School, in Raleigh on Nov. 5, 2014.
Voters fill the stations as they cast their ballots at Precinct 01-44, Millbrook Elem. School, in Raleigh on Nov. 5, 2014. cseward@newsobserver.com

Many Triangle students will be home on Tuesday or have a shorter school day due to concerns about safety and traffic from the high voter turnout expected on Election Day.

The Durham, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Granville and Harnett County school systems and two Johnston County schools that are polling places will be closed for students on Tuesday. The Wake County and Franklin County school systems will start classes two hours later to try to avoid having students on campus during the morning voting rush.

Similar steps are taking place at schools around the country amid concerns that the heated rhetoric from the presidential campaign could spill over into confrontations or even violence at polling sites. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that 51 percent of likely voters are at least somewhat worried that violence might occur during Election Day.

Locally, Wake school officials said they have Election Day security plans for the 63 schools that serve as polling sites. But school officials say they can’t go into detail about the plans because it could create a security risk.

“Parents should know that our Election Day procedures include measures to ensure the safety of our students and faculty,” said Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman.

But Mike Molitoris, a Wake County parent, isn’t reassured. He’d prefer that Wake County either close schools on Tuesday or have a show of force with police officers at every school that’s a polling site.

“The last thing you need is a nutjob showing up screaming that the elections are rigged,” Molitoris said.

Officials from Cary and Raleigh say police don’t plan to assign officers to polling sites.

Officers may be called out to polling sites to help with traffic issues. The Wake County Board of Elections is sending workers to help traffic coming in and out of some polling sites.

Schools are popular locations to set up polling places, thanks to their large capacities for parking and people. Nearly a third of the 202 polling places in Wake County are at schools.

Election officials typically ask school systems to either close school or have delayed openings on Election Day.

The Johnston County school board voted in September to close East Clayton and River Dell elementary schools for students on Election Day. School leaders cited how election officials pointed to safety concerns from the expected high volume of voters utilizing these schools, parking lots and connecting roads and highways.

Durham, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Granville and Harnett went a step further by scheduling a teacher workday Tuesday for schools that are not polling places.

Wake County school officials have said they can’t close school on Election Day due to the challenge of accommodating the state’s school calendar law, which sets the opening and closing days for traditional-calendar schools.

As a former social studies teacher, Wake County school board Chairman Tom Benton said there’s value in keeping schools open on Election Day so students can see the election process taking place. Benton said he’s not worried about violence occurring at polling sites.

“We have a great deal of confidence that everybody, including voters in Wake County, will be aware of maintaining proper decorum on our sites on Election Day,” Benton said.

Some school systems, such as Orange and Chatham counties, plan to have normal school hours on Election Day.

“We’re not anticipating anything out of the ordinary on the day itself,” said Seth Stephens, an Orange County schools spokesman. “It’s a day when citizens show up to vote. Those schools are used to being polling sites.”

Staff writer Abbie Bennett and the Associated Press contributed.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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