The Clarkstown School District will no longer host any polling sites at its schools. Rockland County Board of Elections Commissioners Louis Babcock and Kristen Stavisky said Thursday they are evaluating new polling locations to replace the ones previously set up at seven Clarkstown schools, three Nyack schools and a Pearl River Catholic church.
Babcock, the county’s Republican commissioner, said over the years school district clerks with whom they work closely had expressed concerns about the influx of people coming into the schools to vote and the security challenges they faced.
“This has been a continuing concern for years,” said Stavisky, the county’s Democratic commissioner.
After last year’s fatal school shootings in Newtown, CT, Babcock said the district clerks made the requests in January.
“So they’re asking us to move out of the school buildings and we’re doing our best to accommodate,” Babcock said.
The Clarkstown schools taken off the polling site list are: Bardonia, West Nyack, Link, Little Tor, Strawtown and Woodglen elementary and Birchwood School. Nyack’s Liberty, Valley Cottage and Upper Nyack elementary schools, Sloatsburg Elementary School and St. Margaret's Church in Pearl River are also being removed from the list. They will not be used for voting for the September primary.
“Hopefully the people who used to vote at these schools will understand and they will adapt,” said Babcock.
The news came as a surprise to Clarkstown Assistant Superintendent John LaNave who had led a Monday meeting on school safety at which Birchwood School Principal Jonathan Slaybaugh spoke about the issue.
“We have absolutely no way to control who comes in and out of our building,” said Slaybaugh.
LaNave was pleased to learn of the change.
“It’s welcome news, it is,” he said.
LaNave noted the change takes away from the schools role as being a central part of the community.
“My reaction is that while it’s good news it’s sad that’s it’s a testament to violence in our society and that our schools can’t be the center of our community,” said LaNave.
Stavisky indicated that they expect to receive additional requests from other districts.
“I think this is something we will be working on moving forward, “ she said. “I think we were responding to ongoing conversations with district clerks and to be proactive about it.”
Babcock said by law the Board of Elections can use any building that is tax exempt as a polling site. However, he said the facility must be ADA compliant with a large enough open space for voting and available from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. for Primary Day and Election Day.
“There will be some changes in the polling sites this year,” said Babcock.
On top of eliminating some schools as polling sites, the New York State Board of Elections has requested that all polling places be handicapped accessible. Although the objective is keep polling places in the same neighborhoods that may change and more election districts may be added to some polling sites. Currently there are 80 polling locations in Rockland and 279 election districts.
“We’ll do what we have to do,” said Babcock. “People may have to drive a little further to vote.”
By May 1st, the county board has to provide a list of polling sites to the state along with confirmation that they are ADA compliant. The board can provide call bells, mats and temporary ramps to make buildings accessible.
Although the main reason the schools were removed from the lists was student security, St. Margaret's Church was taken off because of ADA compliances issues. Other facilities not being utilized for voting in the future because of ADA compliance issues and inadequate parking include the Nyack School District’s Hilltop Administration Building and BOCES- St. Ann’s School in Nyack.