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Election day school security measures questioned : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Election day school security measures questioned
Plan to station officers at The Wheatlands, Homestead called 'reactionary'

by Lyle R. Rolfe


The City of Aurora wants to use two schools in the Oswego School District as polling places in the March 18 primary election.

But a rather routine resolution to approve the city's use of the schools resulted in considerable discussion by the school district board during a meeting last week.

The resolution states the city wants to use The Wheatlands Elementary School at 2290 Barrington Drive West and Homestead Elementary School at 2830 Hillsboro Boulevard as polling places.

The city had been using Bednarcik Junior High School at 3025 Heggs Road, also in Aurora, but will be using the nearby Crossroads Church for this election, according to the resolution.

According to an agreement between the city and school district, the city at its own expense, must provide a police officer in plain clothes and a squad car at both polling places from 6 a.m to 7 p.m. on election day.

This was requested to maximize the safety of all students, staff and community members at those two schools according to Associate Superintendent Dr. Paul, O'Malley and Maureen Lemon, school board attorney.

The agreement says the police officer will oversee the polling place at each building, to be sure each person entering to vote stays in the polling place and does not enter any other area of the school building.

O'Malley said he also is working with the Kendall County Sheriff's Office to provide an officer and squad car at schools being used for voting in areas of Kendall County. This will be a separate agreement, so those schools were not named in this resolution, he said.

The city must pay the cost of the officers and squad cars, so there is no cost to the district, he added.

Board member Brent Lightfoot said he took issue with the section of the agreement that says the school district requested a police officer in plain clothes and a squad car at the each school. He noted that the district and city have worked together for years in providing polling places.

He said he understood the reason for the police was to provide extra security because there will be members of the public in the building on election day.

"However, this hasn't been a problem before. I understand there are stupid people in the world who do stupid things. But I feel this is reactionary. I don't think it's needed and I'm having a difficult time supporting this portion of the request," he said.

He asked that they eliminate this part of the agreement and said he would be happy to work with the district in preparing a formal agreement on how the process will work.

Board President Bill Walsh said that considering the times and what has happened in other schools, the stationing of police in the schools is to provide more safety for everyone involved and said it is a positive thing.

O'Malley said all schools now require visitors to show a photo ID before being allowed into the schools so there is a record of every visitor's arrival and when they leave.

Rather than ask voters to do this and leave the district open to possible lawsuits, they are having a police officer on duty to see that voters and city election employees enter only certain areas of the building while there.

O'Malley said school personnel do a lot of preliminary work to open the schools early for voting and stay late to be sure everyone is out of the building before they leave.

"This is to protect the students which is our most precious commodity," he added.

Board member Danielle Paul asked why the officers are not in uniform. O'Malley said city officials suggested they be in plain clothes and also said a squad car should be at the school.

O'Malley said they talked first to Kendall County officials about this and State's Attorney Eric Weis suggested an officer and car at the schools where voting will take place.

Lightfoot asked how many of the district's schools are used for voting and was told it was eight.

"So it's no cost to the district, but that's eight officers being taken off the street," Lightfoot said.

Walsh said he was not sure whether these are regular or off-duty officers but he said district officials should be thankful the municipalities are supporting the security measures no cost to the district.

Lightfoot said this is a policy issue and said the board should have been involved in it from the start.

"There's a lot of questions about it and I don't know if we're ready to make a decision this quickly," he added.

Wendt said they should table the issue until the board's next meeting on Monday, Feb. 24.

Walsh wanted to know why a proposal to protect students should be tabled. He said this is an action (using schools as polling places) that is required by law.

Before more discussion ensued, board member Ali Swanson made a motion to table the issue until Feb. 24.

It was approved by a 4-3 vote with Swanson, Mike McDowell, Danielle Paul and Greg O'Neil voting in favor of it and Walsh, Lightfoot and Matt Bauman voting against it.

The agreement said each Polling Place must be at least 30 feet by 21 feet in size in a room or other area in the building that can be closed or cordoned off from the remainder of the building.

Polling Places must have or have access to, rest rooms for use by Election Judges and other Commission personnel performing Election Day duties at the Polling Place.

The school district must provide parking for five Election Judges, voters, poll watchers, a police officer, and representatives for the State's Attorney and Attorney General.

It was not known when the agreement with Kendall County would be brought to the board. Walsh said they are separate agreements, each dealing with a different government agency.

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