State Journal

Let It Snow?

R.I. schools to close for primary election.

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For Rhode Island students, Sept. 12 is like a snow day—without the white, fluffy stuff.

It’s an unexpected extra day off school that caught administrators and parents by surprise. And as with any school cancellation, it’s causing scheduling headaches.

The problems are courtesy of the state board of elections.

The reason?

On Tuesday of next week, voters will go to the polls—often in school buildings—for the state’s party primaries.

The election board decided schools should take a holiday for primary elections, just as they do on Election Day in November. It included the new day off in a bigger “voting integrity” bill that the Rhode Island legislature approved this year.

But the election board didn’t tell schools about the idea. And apparently, school officials and their lobbyists didn’t read the legislation.

So school districts set their 2006-07 calendars assuming they would be open as usual on Sept. 12.

After the new holiday was discovered last month, schools had to make last-minute changes to their calendars and add a new school day elsewhere in the calendar, said Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education.

What’s more, the new holiday could cost districts additional money if they have to pay teachers for the day off under union contracts, Mr. Krieger said.

“Every dollar counts,” he said.

The board of elections’ executive director, Robert Kando, says the primary should be treated no differently from the general election.

Many schools serve as polling places, and officials can’t risk student interference with the voting process, he said.

But the more important issue is security, Mr. Kando said. At schools that serve as polling places, car traffic increases, and voters might roam into places on campus they’re not supposed to be, he said.

“Everybody is more concerned about the safety of students now,” Mr. Kando said. “When the board of elections examined security issues, schools were an extra area of concern.”

Vol. 26, Issue 02, Page 30

Published in Print: September 6, 2006, as Let It Snow?

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