LEWISTON — Classes have been canceled at two local elementary schools that will serve as polling places on Election Day, to ensure the safety of students.
Superintendent Bill Webster cited an expected high voter turnout and strong emotions about presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as reasons for calling off lessons at Longley and Montello elementary schools on Nov. 8.
Voting has long been held in school gymnasiums, but this is the first time the School Department has canceled classes on Election Day. Voters in Wards 4, 5 and 7 vote at Longley; voters in Ward 2 cast ballots at Montello.
“In the interest of both safety of students and also the operations of these two schools, they should be closed for students,” Webster said Monday.
This election may have two to three times the average number of voters, he said. “And the tone of this campaign is putting more stress on the situation, which further points to the appropriateness of not having school.”
Staff at both schools will participate in professional development, Webster said. Classes will be held at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s culinary school, The Green Ladle, across from Lewiston High School where Ward 6 voters cast ballots.
With high school students, security will be easier to monitor, Webster said.
Montello Principal Jim Cliffe said he was relieved school had been called off on Nov. 8. Like most city schools, Montello’s student population is at or near capacity.
“Most elections in this ward get a pretty heavy turnout,” Cliffe said, “We’re expecting a heavier turnout with the presidential election.”
In this day and age of heightened school security, schools are locked during the day. Anyone entering is screened and must show identification.
That’s not possible during an election, Cliffe said.
“It concerns me having so many unfamiliar faces in the building,” he said.
Voters and students would have no choice but to mingle as voters entered the school and walked down hallways to get to the gym.
And there would not be enough parking for school staff, parents and voters, Cliffe said.
Auburn schools to remain open
Auburn schools will be open for classes on Election Day, but police will be stationed at the four schools where voting takes place, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.
Polls will be open at Auburn Middle School and at Washburn, Fairview and Sherwood Heights elementary schools.
After meeting with city hall and police officials, “the police agreed to have a police presence at each polling site to make sure it’s as secure as possible,” Grondin said.
Parent Jennifer Ziebart, whose second-grader attends Sherwood Heights, said school doors are locked during the day, but on Election Day the school is wide open.
“Considering the world we live in,” students are too exposed, Ziebart said. And with the school full of students and voters, the building and parking lot will be too congested, Ziebart said.
“Voting needs to be taken out of the school,” she said.
Grondin said she understands where parents are coming from and that she’d like to see Auburn schools no longer used as voting places. “Could there be a better plan?” she asked.
A better plan is something City Clerk Sue Clements-Dallaire is working on.
After the election is over, finding and consolidating voting places will be her goal, Clements-Dallaire said.
But it’s complicated.
A voting location should be in the same ward where voters live. The Norway Savings Bank Arena and Hasty Armory would be good locations, but both are in the same ward.
And voting places must be large enough to handle crowds, have plenty of parking and be accessible to people with disabilities.
Auburn geographically is a large city, Clements-Dallaire said. “It’s challenging.”