Editorial: Polling places at schools can be lesson in civics
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
A common refrain after Saturday's marches across the country by students was that they must do their part and vote when they are eligible.
Indeed, no matter where you stand on the issue of guns and gun violence, voting is where change can be made or stopped.
And so it's not unreasonable to see value in having students made aware of elections by having polling places right in their own schools.
It's a good learning tool as long as measures are taken to keep the schools safe.
As staff writer Eric Peterson wrote in Tuesday's Daily Herald, there are many reasons schools have been chosen as polling places over the years: among them, size, visible location, adequate parking and accessibility for people with disabilities. But with safety concerns on people's minds, some believe it's time to move those polling places elsewhere.
We disagree with that notion and agree with Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen, who said the district is happy to fulfill its civic duty providing polling places. He added that 18-year-old students have been able to learn about the democratic process firsthand by serving as election judges in the schools.
That's refreshing and important all at the same time.
Safety concerns, however, should not be discounted, and not every school will be a good candidate for a polling place. But where a separate door can be used by voters and the polling area cut off from the rest of the school, the option seems to make sense.
Other districts choose to cancel classes on Election Day to make room for the polls while ensuring safety.
What isn't necessary is an overreaction by prohibiting polling places in schools as proposed late last year to the Illinois Association of School Boards by Naperville-Aurora's Indian Prairie Unit District 204. That district closes school on general election days in November. The IASB agreed to keep the decision-making at a local level, which is appropriate.
We remain sympathetic to school districts' call to get reimbursed by county election authorities for any security costs. But we ultimately side with school board members across the state who, like District 211, say hosting polling places remains a good tool for teaching civics to students.
Downstate Harrisburg Unit District 3 board member Tom DeNeal put it best: "We should be teaching young people it is a privilege and right to vote, not an inconvenience," DeNeal said.