Keep voting out of our schools: NHP-GCP community members

Keep voting out of our schools: NHP-GCP community members
Members of the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park spoke out during Tuesday's Sewanhaka board of education meeting against New Hyde Park Memorial being designated a polling place. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Members of the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park community vehemently objected on Tuesday to a decision to hold primary voting on Sept. 13 at New Hyde Park Memorial High School, saying it will compromise students’ safety.

The decision to hold voting at the high school was made by the Nassau County Board of Elections. The Sewanhaka Board of Education tabled any decision during Tuesday’s meeting for further discussion, but school officials said they had little choice in the matter.

District officials said they are aware of the community’s concern that having voters streaming into the school undermines typical district safety protocols and are reaching out to lawmakers to see what can be done in the future, as well as notifying parents before the primary.

Trustee James Reddan, who represents the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park district, said the Board of Elections’ choice to make the high school a polling area was a “slap in the face” to the community, which had fought hard to get voting out of its schools.

“No matter what you put in front of me I’m voting no,” Reddan said.

Efforts to reach the Board of Elections were unavailing.

For about five years the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park district, which operates elementary schools, has been on a crusade to take voting out of its schools, according to Danielle Messina, a Garden City Park resident who helped lead the project.

After gaining hundreds of signatures on petitions, and earning the support of Superintendent Jennifer Morrison, who Messina said did not sign off on allowing the schools to be polling places this year, the parents were successful in their attempt.

About a week ago, when voters in the community received a postcard listing voting places, the Manor Oaks School and Hillside Grade School were not listed, Reddan said.

The Road School had previously been taken off as a polling place when it was deemed unsuitable about five years ago, Messina said.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the high school listed,” said Kathryn Canese, a New Hyde Park resident.

In the past, New Hyde Park Memorial was not used as a polling area, but other high schools in the district have been used for elections.

Floral Park Memorial, Sewanhaka High School and Elmont Memorial have been used as polling places for as long as Superintendent Ralph Ferrie has been with the district and “long before that,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

Their corresponding elementary districts also have voting in schools, and he has never received any comments from constituents in those areas asking for it to be changed, he said.

Although the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park elementary district is separate from Sewanhaka, students who attend New Hyde Park Memorial High School come from the same community where hundreds just signed a petition calling for schools not to be voting places, Canese said.

Reddan told Ferrie that he “dropped the ball on this one.”

Reddan questioned why he wasn’t notified as a trustee about this decision that impacts his community.

“Why am I even on this board?” Reddan said.

Ferrie said he did not sign off on any forms from the Board of Elections. He said the decision came over the summer “out of the clear blue sky.”

When the district was notified in mid-July, Ferrie began contacting lawmakers, he said.

“I have taken every aggressive stance with our legislators voicing my opposition and will continue to do so,” Ferrie said.

Ferrie said he has been in contact with state Sen. Elaine Phillips, state Assemblyman Ed Ra and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer regarding the issue.

Phillips told Ferrie she has recently introduced legislation that would allow schools the option to opt out of being polling places, Ferrie said.

Ra told him of similar legislation in the state Assembly, Ferrie said.

Ferrie added that although a bill is introduced, it takes time to move through the process and there’s no guarantee it will even come to a vote.

In an interview after the meeting, Ferrie said the district faces a unique challenge to meet the needs of different communities, with only one openly objecting to the voting in schools.

Bernadette Gallagher-Gaffney, the district’s attorney, said if the district chooses to not allow voting after schools are designated as a voting area, individual board members and administrators could be sued.

Messina said it was a “spiteful” move on behalf of the Board of Elections.

Kevin O’Brien, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said dealing with the Board of Elections is difficult.

“I felt like I was dealing with despots from a third world country,” O’Brien said.

With the primary election just a few weeks away, Canese asked board members what immediate action they plan to take.

Canese posed two options: to call for an emergency school closure or send a letter home to parents letting them know safety protocols will be compromised on that day and let them choose what to do.

She also said the board should consider excusing absences for that day.

The high school principal is going to call the parents prior to the voting, Ferrie said in an interview.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to move forward and look up our options,” Ferrie added. “This wasn’t something we were going to be able to change between when we were notified and the Sept. 13 date. I know it took significantly longer in the elementary district to have that change.”

During the meeting, the board unanimously approved an updated districtwide safety plan.

Ferrie also announced security upgrades to the facilities for the year, including new buzz-in security at the main entrance, new lock systems for the exterior doors and the installation of blue lights.

The blue strobe lights will put off a light “visible to all” during a lockdown, Ferrie said.

The districtwide safety protocol cannot be in place during voting, Canese said.

On a voting day, unidentified people come in and out of the schools all day long, Canese said.

Messina first got involved in the mission to take voting out of the elementary schools when she experienced a lockdown during a primary election at the Road School about five years ago, she said.

For two hours Messina said she hid with crying children.

“It was a terrible feeling,” Messina said. “We have all these strategy plans, and we’re allowing strangers in.”

It is a potential safety threat that could easily be avoided, Reddan said.

Michael J. Tully Park and the New Hyde Park Fire Department have been approved as suitable alternatives for polling places, Reddan said.

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  1. There’s been incompetent compromise. For a long time . And there needs to be resignation’s. Safety has been last for a long time. With the Grammar school in NHP.


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