The story below appeared in this morning's Daily Herald and it simply saddens me. Letting children see democracy in action through voting is one of the most valuable and easily taught lessons available to schools.
When I was a child, I remember seeing the big blue voting boxes appear at the end of October, talking with the voting judges on voting day both before and after school, and then seeing the boxes disappear a couple of days later. (Disclaimer: Cousins of mine were always election judges at my school, which may have also piqued my interest in all that was going on). I would always ask my parents if they voted (they did) and I grew up believing that everyone voted. They just did. At least in my mind. It wasn't until many years later, maybe not until I got to college, that I learned that not everyone voted. I won't get into my soap box about why everyone must vote. You can thank me anytime.
In my opinion, so many lessons children receive are caught, rather than just taught. Sure, my parents voted and my family is politically active, which gave me a head start. Without seeing democracy in action, how do kids who grow up in homes where the parents don't vote and who believe it's all fixed anyway or their vote doesn't matter or the rich, elite, and powerful will always run everything come to believe anything else? It's one thing for children to hear about voting and read about elections in the classroom, but using schools as polling places when school is in session brings it all to life and teaches kids valuable lessons about being responsible citizens.
I will concede that since I don't have kids, I may not understand the overwhelming need to protect them from all the dangers in the world. But I think that the logic that allowing strangers into the schools to vote brings unnecessary risk to children is false. I vote at a school and we are restricted to the gymnasium, which is accessed directly from the outside. School isn't in session (thanks District 25!), but even if it was, we would never even come close to seeing kids.
Using the logic relied on by proponents to close schools on Election Day, I think that also calls for eliminating all field trips (which I also think is over-the-top). Strangers walking around the zoo or a museum can't be controlled and have far greater access to children than anyone does on Election Day. Maybe kids also shouldn't go to the public pool or town festivals or play outside.
Many school districts have also eliminated annual trips to Washington DC because of liability issues. My class trip to Washington in 1985 changed my life. I saw and experienced all that I had read about in history books. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence were no longer just words I had to memorize. I remember thinking during that trip that I wanted to live there someday. My parents couldn't afford to take a family vacation there and but for that trip, I might never have lived in Washington DC.
I understand that the world is very different today than it was 25 years ago, but I worry about the unforeseen costs we incur by overprotecting kids. Without these lessons in civics, history and politics, how will we raise the next generation of public servants? How will kids even know a life in public service is possible or what it means?
Too many kids grow up believing they can be the next Michael Jordan or David Beckham, which simply isn't realistic. And as a society, we encourage it. Of course, not everyone can be the President of the United States either, but everyone can and should be involved in their community and local government either as a volunteer or elected official. And it all begins with voting.
More schools taking day off for election day
By Jake Griffin Daily Herald Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2008 12:05 AM
Fewer students are getting the up-close-and-personal lessons in American democracy they once were afforded.
Citing safety concerns and faster voting operations, a growing number of school districts are giving students Election Day off this year.
In most counties, 30 to 40 percent of the polling places are schools. That's because they are usually centrally located, easily accessible and have the space.
But what they often lack is a security detail to keep voters from wandering the school. Combine that with a massive increase in traffic that day and parents, school administrators and election officials can see a problem just waiting to happen.
"Our school officials were very receptive to our proposal because of how thorough we were with our research," said Robin Church, president of the Indian Prairie Unit District 204's parents council, which serves portions of Naperville, Aurora, Plainfield and Bolingbrook. "We know nothing has happened; that's why we call it a proactive school safety initiative."
District 204 is not only keeping students home Nov. 4, but it swapped some teacher in-service dates to keep kids home during the February primary as well.
"What we've done is committed to use nonattendance days on election days to avoid having kids in school then," said Mark Metzger, District 204 school board president. "If you're allowing the general public into the building, then we're worried about our kids."
The District 204 group's report has become the Magna Carta of Election Day school safety studies. Other parent groups in DuPage County have asked for its help and members have made presentations to the county's election commission about the benefits closing schools would have on voters. Some officials elsewhere also endorse the group's findings. They cite the dangers of self-directed parking at most schools for voters, shared entrances for voters and schoolchildren, and controlling access to the school.
"To me, that is such an ideal situation," Kane County Director of Elections Linda Mitchell said about closing schools on Election Day. "It would mean so much to getting our jobs done more easily."
It's not a new idea; it's just that the District 204 report pretty much covers every base. It received endorsements from state education and election groups. The group even did a safety audit of schools during a recent election that showed how easily voters can get into the school.
Its report also includes safety initiatives if boards determine schools must remain open. They suggest adding security personnel to keep voters out of restricted school space, requiring sign-in sheets, and training election judges in school safety procedures.
Neighboring Naperville Unit District 203 will remain open on Election Day because the teachers contract won't allow them to take the day off, said Melanie Raczkiewicz, the district's associate superintendent for operations. She would not provide great detail about the school's security protocols other than to say the issue has been discussed.
"We do have a person who stays in that polling area to keep an eye on things," she said. "Safety is our primary concern and we have never had a problem."
Fourteen school districts in DuPage will keep students home on Election Day this year. Election officials in other counties also are reporting more schools taking the day off this year.
"We've lost some schools who don't feel it's safe for us to use their space for voting," said Lake County Clerk Willard Helander. "We have statutory authority behind us, but we know if we're not wanted, the day is not going to go as well."
Attempts to legislate the issue have all met the same fate. Three bills designed to keep kids home on Election Day were essentially killed in committee last year in Springfield.
"We caught a lot of problems with the bill," said state Rep. JoAnn Osmond, an Antioch Republican. "Everybody had an excuse not to do it, and it got to be more controversial than it was worth."
Osmond's bill simply required schools to keep students home on Election Day. Chicago Democratic state Rep. Connie Howard's bill would have made the day a state holiday and given just about everyone the day off.
"I just thought it might encourage everyone to come out and vote if they didn't have anything else to do that day," she said. "But we heard about it from everyone who was complaining their businesses would suffer if they had the day off."
Another bill would have required teacher institute days be scheduled on election and primary dates before any other day, but it never made it out of committee, either.
One law that did get passed bans registered sex offenders from voting at schools. But everyone admits there's no one at the polling places making sure that law is obeyed.
"I don't think any of these bills made much of a difference to us," said Jean Donovan, the past president of the District 204 parents council. "We came in with everything we had and all these people to say this was the right decision and our board listened."
These school districts are among those not holding classes on Election Day in November:
Queen Bee School District 16, Glendale Heights
Keeneyville School District 20, Hanover Park
West Chicago Elementary School District 33
Glen Ellyn School District 41
Lombard Elementary School District 44
Downers Grove Grade School District 58
Maercker District 60, Clarendon Hills
Darien Public Schools District 61
Gower School District 62, Willowbrook
Center Cass School District 66, Downers Grove
Woodridge School District 68
Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89
Indian Prairie Unit District 204
Elmhurst Unit District 205
Beach Park School District 3
Emmons School District 33, Antioch
Waukegan Public School District 60
Kildeer Countryside School District 96, Buffalo Grove
North Shore School District 112, Highland Park
Round Lake Area School District 116
East Aurora District 131
Palatine Township Elementary District 15
Wheeling Township Elementary District 21
Prospect Heights School District 23
Arlington Heights School District 25
River Trails School District 26
Schaumburg Community Consolidated District 54
Mount Prospect School District 57
Des Plaines Community Consolidated District 62
East Maine School District 63