NYC parents push back against using public schools for early voting

NEW YORK — Parents are pushing back against using dozens of local public schools for early voting when kids are in the building, citing safety concerns and disruptions to the regular school day from canceled gym classes to no hot meals.

A petition to relocate dozens of poll sites on school days started on Staten Island, but this month expanded to three more boroughs. It had reached close to 1,600 signatures as of Friday afternoon. A citywide council of high school parents passed a nonbinding resolution midweek urging an end to the schools’ use.

“I can tell you this,” Kevin Moran, the chief officer of school operations, told the city schools chancellor’s parent advisory council Thursday. “On a personal level, my (children) all attended P.S. 8, where we were an early voting, primary site and general election, where they missed gym for considerable amounts of time.”

“I experienced this as a professional and as a person with my children,” he said. “So it’s something we want to do.”

Last year, 33 public schools served as early voting sites in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, according to data shared with the New York Daily News. There were no early voting sites in Queens public schools.

Glenn Gontha, dad to a sophomore and senior at Staten Island Technical High School and member of the Citywide Council on High Schools, said that in 2022 a voter wandered out of the cafeteria and entered a classroom, startling the teacher and students. No one was harmed, but the incident raised safety concerns on the PTA.

The temporary loss of the cafeteria also means students don’t have access to hot meals while early voting is underway, Gontha said. By the time polling sites are set up and broken down, that can stretch on for a couple of weeks.

Gontha, who himself votes early, said he and others are looking for viable alternatives, including community centers and libraries, within a one-mile radius of the present school sites. He said he’s faced criticism over voter disenfranchisement — an allegation he said is “absolutely not the case” if there are other locations available.

“There has to be in every single borough,” Gontha said.

Two-thirds of the early voting sites in school buildings last year were in gyms, including two that were higher than the first floor, according to the data. The majority of them are in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

More than a dozen students, parents and administrators, including many from Staten Island, spoke out at the high school council Wednesday against the practice.

“My students for seven days each early voting cycle do not have an opportunity to eat a hot breakfast and a hot lunch,” said Andrew Greenfield, principal of Staten Island’s Port Richmond High School, where he added nearly three-quarters of his 1,800 students are economically disadvantaged. “I find it preposterous and unfathomable.”

“It amazes me that when we do this to our children,” he said.

School safety agents continue to work in school buildings while early voting is underway, and all election sites have an NYPD officer assigned to them, according to the head of school safety, Mark Rampersant.

“However, they’re assigned to the election process — not necessarily to the school process,” Rampersant said.

A state bill, first introduced by state Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican, in 2019, would amend election law to exempt public school buildings from being early voting sites. The proposed law has repeatedly stalled in committee.

But Moran, the school operations chief officer, suggested that other boroughs can follow Queens’ lead and find early voting sites that do not impact student learning.

“Queens has been very successful in finding community partners to serve as host sites,” Moran said.

“We can work together on places that we identify to host the election process,” which must meet accessibility, square footage and rest room requirements, he explained. “So it’s a bit complicated on getting sites — but again, it’s kind of simple if we know we can have alternatives.”

The city’s Board of Elections did not return a request for comment.