I am appreciative of Common Council's effort to maintain an open dialogue regarding concerns related to school security on voting days. Concerned Parents of Summit brought this important issue to the forefront of public conversation at a Council meeting last November.
Since that time, several members of the group have met with Council members, BOE members, PTO Presidents, the Director of NJDOE’s School Preparedness and Emergency Planning Division, and a Union County Board of Elections official to further the discussion and explore options.
There is no doubt that all parties want to protect our children, but there are some differences of opinion on the approach. To that end, I’d like to clarify a few points from Councilman Hurley’s recent letter to the editor.
First, the Board of Education (BOE) had given specific feedback that it did not intend to close schools on election days, and other than offering police presence, neither BOE nor Common Council indicated that they had planned specific countermeasures or infrastructure changes to secure our schools on voting days.
For this reason, relocating voting to non-school venues was the preferred solution of Concerned Parents of Summit. We gave the City a short list of proposed locations that appear to meet the Board of Elections’ required criteria (parking, ADA accessibility, etc.) and asked the City to consider them. In the course of our conversations, we suggested a phased approach that would move Franklin’s voting into the library (a location that has been approved by the Board of Elections for two voting machines), and we suggested that consideration be given to relocating Brayton’s voting to the soon-to-be refurbished Cornog Fieldhouse, and that other polling stations be moved to the updated Rec Center, the EMS building, and a handful of other locations as they became available.
At the end of Common Council’s review in February 2015, there were several locations that the County was willing to consider with further vetting. Relocating voting to non-school locations continues to be promoted by Concerned Parents of Summit as its preferred solution in part due to its merit and in part because we are not aware of plans to further secure our schools.
With the exception of the role-based access control system which was briefly mentioned at a Common Council meeting, I am not aware of any other “countermeasures” that have been suggested to address school security concerns specific to election days. To my knowledge, a plan that includes cost, required infrastructure changes, and timeframe for countermeasure implementation at each school has not been presented at any Common Council meeting in the last year. Concerned Parents of Summit did not stand in the way of any countermeasure plans.
Finally, I’d like to point out a significant difference between allowing unvetted individuals into our schools while school is in session versus allowing them access during off-hours. The 4,000 children who attend Summit Public Schools are required to attend school. With the exception of voting days, no one is allowed access to the schools while school is in session without first identifying themselves and their purpose.
By contrast, during off-hour activities, parents have a choice of whether or not to send their child to school, and during those times, there are significantly fewer students in the building than there are during the school day. It is imperative to understand that not only are the risks different when school is in session versus not, but also that the options to vet school visitors are different on election days than they are at all other times.
As citizens, the 1,075 members of Concerned Parents of Summit are also “guilty of doing our job,” of making our concerns known to the city and asking that our Council members address these concerns. This conversation has continued for too long; it’s time for action. Common Council, please lead the effort to bring all stakeholders including BOE, Board of Elections, and citizens together to address the school security concerns on voting days.