March 1 is Super Tuesday, when Virginia and a dozen other states vote in the 2016 Presidential Primaries.
Since many polling places are at schools (including Hughes Middle, Aldrin Elementary, Sunrise Valley Elementary, South Lakes High School and others in Reston), the FCPS school board voted in October for a two-hour delay on March 1.
Since then, there has been extensive lobbying of the Board of Supervisors — including by Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Kate Hanley, a Reston resident and the former county supervisor chair (1995-2003) — asking that the schools be closed for the day. Hanley said she had security concerns as a very large turnout is expected.
In January, the BOS voted 9 to 1 to ask the schools to close. At that time, schools superintendent Karen Garza said there were no plans to close FCPS on primary day.
In Fairfax County, schools are always closed on general election day in November.
It looks like Garza has changed her mind now.
On Wednesday, Garza announced that the school board will consider the closure on March 1. A vote will be taken by the school board tonight.
“In all past presidential primaries, our schools remained open and we had hoped we could continue this practice and conduct school,” Garza said in a statement. “However, in light of historic turnouts in primaries across the country in the past two weeks, it is anticipated that voter turnout here in Fairfax County will likewise result in historic numbers of voters. The Board’s vote will take place at it its business meeting Thursday, Feb. 18.”
There are a total of 167 FCPS buildings used as polling sites. Elementary schools, which have very limited parking, comprise 124 of those sites
“Record voter turnouts in New Hampshire and Iowa, and anticipation of an historic voter turnout from the Fairfax County Office of Elections, lead us to believe that there could be significant logistical issues regarding parking and building access on March 1,” said Garza.
“We are also concerned that the sheer number of citizens entering schools to vote will make it difficult to conduct a normal school day. Both the Office of Elections and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have encouraged us to consider closing schools March 1 and, after deliberating with state officials, and after weighing these many factors we have decided to recommend closure.”
Under the proposal for a March 1 closure, teachers and students would not report to school. SACC, school offices and central offices will be open, said Garza.
Because Fairfax County has additional hours built into the 2015-16 standard calendar to accommodate weather emergencies, it will not be necessary to make up the day, she added.