WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield’s public schools will be closed for next year’s general election, the school board announced during its meeting Tuesday night.
“We were able to move a professional development day and parent-teacher conferences so that all schools will be closed for the general election next year,” said board member Brendan Galligan, who chairs the board’s Policies Committee. “We’re going to be open Monday, closed Tuesday, open Wednesday with a half-day for the elementary schools, and then closed Thursday and Friday.”
The board unanimously approved a change in the district’s calendar to close schools on Nov. 3, 2020. Schools will instead be open February 12, 2021, the Friday before President’s Day. The Staff-Inservice day previously scheduled for Feb. 12, 2021 will now take place on Nov. 3, 2020, the revised district calendar shows.
This change comes amid concerns about security in schools for Election Day. Westfield is among several districts in the county that did not close for this year’s general election.
Galligan said the board’s Policies Committee considered three potential changes in the schedule, and that the change selected was least disruptive for students, families and staff.
“This is the least disruptive of the calendar options we looked at. We looked at three, and then modified those three in the Policies Committee,” Galligan said. The committee also includes board members Kent Diamond, Brian Morrissey and Gretchan Ohlig.
Galligan said the high turnout expected during the general election is a main reason for the change. “We anticipate higher than average voter turnout, and it’s best to keep those worlds [school instruction and public voting] separate as best we can,” Galligan said.
“For the general election next year, I imagine 75% turnout isn’t unreasonable. We had 70% three years ago,” he added later.
Galligan said the committee considered potentially closing for the June primary, but decided against it because turnout is expected to be lower.
“We did discuss it,” Galligan said. “Voter turnout is much lower there, and we’re hoping that the county will allow us to further consolidate down, to at least do the two middle schools, where the gyms are separate.”
The committee also discussed the possibility of closing in future years for the entire first week of November, which includes the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Convention on that Thursday and Friday, Galligan said.
“It’s finding two more days in the calendar, without pushing us before Labor Day or pushing graduation further back,” Galligan said. “It’s something to consider going forward, absolutely.”
Board President Peggy Oster said closing for the entire week would disrupt instruction in November. “If you took off that whole week, then you take off the three days of Thanksgiving, you’re almost down to no days left in November for instruction,” she said.
Galligan also mentioned a state bill that would require schools to close for the 2020 General Election.
“There is a law being pushed through the legislature, in this lame duck session, to force us to close [for the general election] next year anyway,” he added. “I would hope that that would be paired with asking the NJEA to move their convention to a different week.”
During the meeting, the board addressed the requirement for schools to serve as polling places during elections.
“The best solution would, of course, be if we were able to just get voting out of our schools altogether so that we wouldn’t have to have this conversation every year,” Ohlig said.
Schools in New Jersey are not allowed to decline serving as polling locations, Superintendent Margaret Dolan said.
“Schools can’t say no to having the schools used as a polling place,” Dolan said. “That’s not an option for schools in the state.”