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Fearing Chaos, Officials Ask Supervisors to Close FCPS on Primary Day

by Karen Goff January 13, 2016 at 11:00 am 16 Comments

Katherine Hanley/File photoFairfax County election officials are concerned that fights and other chaos may ensue when state officials demand Republicans pledge their support in Virginia’s March 1 primaries.

Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Katherine K. Hanley, a Reston resident and the former county supervisor chair (1995-2003), asked the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to ask the Fairfax County Public School board to close schools on primary day.

“That’s about as contentious as anything we can possibly be doing in a polling place on Election Day,” she told the supervisors. She said she is concerned about backlash from Donald Trump supporters — and opponents — that could occur at polling places.

The Virginia Republican Party said it will require voters to affirm that they are Republicans before they get a ballot for that primary. Trump, the Republican frontrunner, has said he opposes the demand.

Virginia voters do not register by party. Republican leaders have said the pledge will keep Democrats from casting ballots.

The school board voted in October to have a two-hour delay on March 1 — “Super Tuesday” — in order to accommodate voters at county polling places, which include 167 schools. Fairfax County Schools are always closed in November for the general election.

Hanley said Tuesday she believes the risk of arguments or fights over the pledge is large enough to justify canceling classes.

The supervisors voted 9 to 1 Tuesday to ask the school system to cancel classes. Kathy Smith (Sully) was the lone dissent.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza said “at this time, there are no plans to close schools for the entire day on March 1.”

Garza sent an email to FCPS families Tuesday night:

FCPS is obligated by law to have a 180-day calendar, and if FCPS is closed for primary day, another student holiday would need to be used as school day.

For many years, schools have been open and serving as polling locations without incident.  The safety of our students, staff and visitors is always our priority and we work closely with election officials, our security team and law enforcement to ensure the safety of all.  On election day,  all school staff and voting officials at each site are asked to remain vigilant and quickly report any suspicious or inappropriate activity. Extra security patrols are added to address any concerns the schools may have and parent volunteers often assist by walking hallways and monitoring public areas.

Today’s suggestion to close schools on March 1 came as a complete surprise to both FCPS staff and the School Board.  FCPS will be reaching out to the Elections Office to learn more about the new security concerns that have been raised. FCPS will continue to keep the community informed regarding any new developments.

Katherine Hanleyfile photo

  • Chuck Morningwood

    I wouldn’t want a herd of frothing-at-the-mouth Trump supporters near my children either.

    • Mike M

      I know a few. I have never seen any of them froth at the mouth nor threaten children in any way.

      This whole maneuver is political. It is an attempt by the Democratic Party to throw fuel on the fire built by the Virginia GOP in their own pants.

    • SouthRestonResident

      I support Mr. Trump for his tax plan and am shocked that someone would slander and name call me a “frothing-at-the-mouth” individual because of it.

    • My Daughter

      It’s people like Chuck that are the problem. He’s already stirring the pot with his comment. I am not sure who I will support, it could be Trump and I certainly have never frothed at the mouth that I can recall. #anyonebuthillary

    • Ming the Merciless

      Around here you are more likely to have your foot run over by a Hillary supporter’s mobility scooter.

  • SouthRestonResident

    I will be behind closing the school for the day, if the teachers are not paid for this day. If They can use a “personal day” or “vacation day”. But people that work 8 months out of the year with a ton of vacation don’t need another paid vacation at the tax payers expense

    • AnimalLover

      So teachers are being punished for something they had no say in or desire for?

      • SouthRestonResident

        As long as they teach 180 days as per FCPS guidelines it’s a non-issue, right? Just have to make up that day later…

      • Ming the Merciless

        It is not “punishment” not to be paid for working on a day when you didn’t work.

    • Noël Miller

      Unfair. FCPS teachers work extremely hard 10 + months of the year, teaching all students regardless of any special circumstances, such as poverty or hunger or drug involved homes. And they earn 10% less than neighboring counties. Please walk in their shoes before you throw stones.

  • Anonymous

    How ridiculous. We haven’t closed school before on primary day in the past, and the general election can be much more contentious. But because now there’s a candidate polling well that someone on the board doesn’t like, suddenly it’s a threat to students? A larger threat to students is the type of hatred that’s spawning this idea that people cannot respectfully disagree, so therefore we need to protect them from the political process.

    • UStifosi .

      Heaven forbid the students start rattling off some of the names of the Republican candidates when they get home from school.

  • RestonVoter

    Is she serious? How blatantly partisan can you be, Kate? So the lesson to the students is that Republican voters are irrational bullies who like to throw punches. Maybe she’s right – but no reason to tell the kids that.

    • SouthRestonResident

      This site is blatantly partisan. Starting with the Ken Plum lectures once a week. Cue up the “Well Ken is an elected representative and if a Republican ever takes his seat they can preach from the pulpit all they want”

      Stories go out of there way to mention when they are in South Reston. When the perp is a minority it’s ignored. Mug shots have been ignored. But it’s fine…….

      I just hope this doesn’t get my account banned

      • Damon Feldman

        Well – this is clearly news. So are Delegate Plum’s statements. I think you may be more upset that you live in a more progressive area. I don’t think RestonNow is here to hide that fact for you.

  • John Farrell

    Based on prior presidential primaries, we can expect 250,000-300,000 voters or more to show up on March 1.

    That’s more than voted for Supervisor in November 2015.

    That’s also more than 1,000 voters in each of the 239 precincts in Fairfax.

    June primaries turn out only 20,000-30,000 County wide.

    FCPS has built 12.5 snow days into its calendar and, to date, it has used none this school year. Garza’s threat to eliminate a student holiday is disingenuous.

    The request to close schools for the Presidential primary was first made in the Spring of 2015. Garza claim of complete surprise is again disingenuous.

    Contrary to Garza’s statement, FCPS schools are closed for the vast majority of our elections.

    167 FCPS schools serve a polling places. In most large turn-out elections, the polling place is in the school’s cafeteria or gym. Students will not be able to use whatever room is used for the polling place for the whole day.

    Voters must access the polling place room and cannot be require to go through the normal security check-in with the front office that visitors on a normal school day perform.

    What prevents the voters from wandering around the school while the kids are there?

    Then there’s the parking. Each of the 19 candidates is entitled to have at least 3 observers inside each polling place. 57 observers. That’s in addition to the 12-16 election officers who will run the election. That’s 69 parking space and we haven’t counted parking places for the voters.

    Many of the polling places are at elementary schools that don’t have 69 parking places.

    The polling place will open at 6 am. Four hours before the schools will open after the 2 hour delay that the School Board adopted in response to the second request from the Electoral Board to close for the day.

    Where will the teachers park? On the street? In our neighborhoods?

    Many other Virginia jurisdictions have already announced that they will
    close their schools on Presidential Primary day including Chesterfield County.

    Given the violence reported at rallies by Trump supporters, and the number of guns that are carried to those rallies, it is not partisan to fear that a disgruntled voter who is refused a ballot when they refuse to sign the Republican affirmation might express that dissatisfaction through violence that involves the students or staff.

    It’s prudent.

    If bad things happen in our schools on Presidential Primary day, its on the School Board now.


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