Some parents upset that SPS had classes in-session at buildings used for polling places

KY3's Joe Hickman reports.
Published: Nov. 8, 2022 at 6:59 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s nothing new that Springfield Public Schools has cooperated with county officials to set up polling places at various SPS facilities.

And it’s nothing new that schools remain in session on election day while voters go to the gym or cafeteria to cast their ballots.

But school violence is becoming more prevalent and parents are understandably worried about any threat to their children.

That concern was heightened even more last week when there was an anonymous call to 911 concerning a possible shooting at Hillcrest High School. The school was locked down and students evacuated but police searched room-to-room and found no indication of a shooting. The matter is still being investigated.

So with nerves already on edge, many SPS parents have been sharing their feelings on social media and with calls to SPS about the district’s decision to keep students in school on election day while 12 SPS facilities were being used as polling places.

“The liability that they’re taking on is tremendous and it’s stupid,” said Julie Davis, whose three girls attend SPS schools at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. “We just had a school shooting scare last week. This week we’re inviting the public into the schools while they’re in session. I just can’t believe this is really happening. We’ve spent how many thousands of dollars for security systems and locking it down so that people who are going inside are being checked-in. That is, until election day. There’s common sense and this is not it. It is not safe. Nixa cancelled school. In the past Springfield has cancelled school. Why did we not cancel school?”

SPS Chief Communications Officer Stephen Hall said cancelling school is the district’s preference.

“Whenever it’s possible for us to schedule professional development rather than having school on election day we do that,” he responded. “But it’s not always possible. We have a number of hours that we have to complete the first semester because of the changes over the past few years including legislation that restricts how early we can start the school year. So the legislation dictates when the school year starts and there’s less flexibility, especially in the first semester, on what adjustments can be made.”

Parents also had concerns about whether there would be a continuous presence of school police at the election sites.

“All our secondary schools have officers who are stationed at those sites,” Hall answered. “All our elementary schools have officers who patrol across those sites.”

But Hall pointed out that although some schools don’t have officers on-site full-time, there are other forms of security in place.

“There are things both visible and not-seen that are in play each and every day,” he explained. “Whether it be a security camera overhead or a volunteer standing watch in the hall or a trained secretary in the office looking out the window, there are watchful eyes that are constantly looking and accessing the building during any given moment in the day.”

Delaware Elementary School Principal Stephanie Young mentioned that election day brings with it and increased awareness of who is in the building and where the students are.

“We’ve modified some of our routines and procedures here at the school to keep the students safely tucked away in one part of the building while voting is taking place in the other part,” she said. “We’re happy to be able to serve as a polling site because it allows the people who voted to give us this brand new building to come and see what they voted for. While we know it may make parents feel a little uncomfortable to think about having unlocked doors and voters in the building, I just want them to know we’ve doubled-down in doing everything we can to keep our students safe.”

“Anytime we’re making contingency plans to accommodate out-of-the-ordinary circumstances in our buildings, those are days we’re being especially watchful,” Hall added. “We’re more vigilant that day than we are most days.”

But that still may not be enough to soothe worried parents.

“The number of school shootings is going up every year,” Davis said. “So we let just anybody in on election day? Why don’t we just send them an invitation to come kill our kids? Don’t tell me that you’ve taken security precautions. You do now allow the public inside our schools without any screening when our children are inside with them at the same time. They don’t mix. Our world is different today and our leadership should put our children’s safety first.”

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