Town hall sparks debate on elections in North Shore schools

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Residents were invited to voice their opinions on holding district elections in North Shore’s schools at a town hall meeting on March 14. Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo and Board of Education trustees debated freely with the public about the prospect of relocating the annual budget vote and trustee election out of the high school gym.

Several community members have argued in recent months that the polling place in the gym poses “unnecessary security risks,” according to an online petition posted by North Shore Parents for Safe Schools on change.org. The petition, which at press time had over 300 signatures, requests the election be moved to a location without students and teachers.

“Our goals are to have an election that is secure and accessible to everyone,” Giarrizzo said. “Versus other buildings and other situations, the high school can be secured.”

Attendees were given a tour of the polling site so Giarrizzo could outline the security measures that would be in place on the day of the vote. He stressed the single entry point to the athletic complex (where the gym is located) on the east side of the building, and said three security personnel would be present in the hallway outside of the gym to monitor the main entrance and the corridor that leads to the lunchroom. Voting machines will be set up on one side of the gym, which will be cordoned off by a divider separating voters from students.

Move the election location

Some residents lobbied to move the district election out of the high school. Grant Kletter, a member of North Shore Parents for Safe Schools, said changing the location of the vote “appropriately prioritizes the safety of our students.”

The petition suggests what Kletter calls “suitable alternatives” to be used as district polling sites, including local community centers, libraries, firehouses, places of worship or other district-owned facilities. At the meeting he cited eight school districts on Long Island that have already done so.

Giarrizzo said he had reached out to all but two of these school districts, and explained that those districts own the alternate facilities wherein their elections take place. For example, Herricks Public Schools in New Hyde Park owns its community center.

Glenwood Landing resident Jim Svendsen, who works in New Hyde Park, supported changing the location of district elections, just as Herricks did. “Like any change it takes a year but then people get used to it,” Svendsen said. “If we can be more cautious, why not be more cautious?”

Sea Cliff parent Danielle Feldman said, “I don’t want my child exposed to someone who doesn’t have their safety in mind.” She expressed concern about the district’s ability to enact lockdown or lockout protocols in the event of a security breach at the athletic complex during the time of the vote. Giarrizzo assured her that the drills would be enacted as usual if a threat were presented, and that the physical security presence at the site would be able to secure the space.

Keep the election the same

Some residents abstained from the idea of moving elections out of the school.

Sea Cliff parent Jennifer Lamond argued that the security risks presented were not as great as they’d been made out to be. “Public schools are the bedrock of our community, and connect students, families and businesses to a common interest,” she said. “The vote is an opportunity for our neighbors to step into the building and see the schools they’re being asked to support financially.”

Tracy Bacher, who serves as the lead for the Nassau County chapter of Moms Demand Action and studies gun violence, assured residents that their children were safe. “The odds of there being a school shooting or somebody actually having a gun is really slim,” she said.

Trustee Tim Madden was vocal about keeping district elections in a school building. “I do believe it’s desirable to hold it at the high school,” he said. “It’s the most central accessible and familiar location in the district, and I do not believe it poses any risks to students.”

Looking ahead

Following the meeting trustees unanimously approved a resolution to hold the annual budget vote and trustee election on Tuesday, May 21 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the high school gym, but the forum left something for trustees to consider. Trustee Marianne Russo acknowledged that it was disingenuous to ignore the concerns of the community, and proposed that the district could hold a referendum on the issue to consider reasonable alternatives for future elections.