Schools no longer best voting place, says Fulton school board

The Fulton County school board plans to push to change a law that requires schools to serve as polling locations, citing growing safety concerns.

Like most metro Atlanta students, those in Fulton County will stay home on Election Day, when nearly a third of the district's schools will be used as polling sites.

Fulton County Schools changed its schedule to make Nov. 6 a staff training day instead of a regular school day, amid fears about holding class while the public uses schools to vote.

Those worries, combined with other Election Day problems such as parking and traffic, led the school board members to go a step further. They want to change a state law that their attorney says requires districts to make schoolhouses available as voting sites when county government officials ask.

“With all these shootings it’s scary to have people be able to walk into the schools,” said Fulton school board President Linda Bryant. “Years before people were not walking into school killing children. School was a safe place, and schools should still remain a safe place.”

The law states that schools and other government entities “shall make arrangements for the use of their property for polling places” upon request, provided that voting does not “substantially interfere” with the building’s primary use.

Attorney Glenn Brock told school board members at a recent meeting that while he thinks safety concerns rise to fit the law’s exception, he recommended calling on legislators to change the law. The rewrite could be as simple as changing “shall” to “may,” he said, or adding a phrase that schools are to be used “upon consent of the school districts.”

Brock said the 1933 law “is outdated and no longer serves the general public.”

There are more than 180 polling locations in Fulton County, including 30 Fulton schools and 22 Atlanta schools. Voters also cast ballots at churches, community and senior centers, libraries, fire stations, and other government buildings.

A spokeswoman for the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections said Friday the director was not available for comment.

Susan Campbell, whose son attends Centennial High School, which is a polling site, is among Fulton parents who think voters and students can no longer “coexist.” Add parking and traffic concerns to safety worries, and she said it was wise to cancel school for students.

“You really have to practically give a blood sample to get into schools these days, so how do we then open it up on election days?” she said.

She suggested using more libraries and other sites as voting locations. But she also thinks there’s a way to still use schools, especially if doing that saves taxpayer money. Students could study from home using digital technology, and teachers could have work days, she said.

The Cobb County elections board is looking for alternative polling sites, partly because increased school security measures have made it more difficult to use schools, said director Janine Eveler.

Roughly 60 of the county’s 141 polling sites are currently schools. Cobb and Marietta students are not in class on Election Day.

“As the world has changed, schools have become more enclosed. Their job is to keep the bad out. Our job is to let everyone in to vote, so we are at counter purposes,” she said.