The Virginia House of Delegates voted Tuesday to require all public schools to treat Election Day as a school holiday. The bill, pitched as a school safety measure that would prevent interactions between voters and children, was approved on a 97-1 vote. “It’s impossible for the schools to properly screen each individual entering the building without slowing down the voting lines,” said Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, patron of House Bill 1752. “This creates a security concern because it potentially allows strangers unwarranted access to the school building.” Most school systems already have special schedules on Election Day that keep children at home, including the four largest school systems in the Richmond area. Under the proposed law, local school leaders would no longer have the option of keeping school buildings open to students. Only a handful of counties have chosen to continue holding classes on Election Day, but around 30 school divisions don’t have a set policy on the matter, according to Krizek.
The bill – a recommendation from the school safety committee that House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights established after last year’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla. – had wide support as at made its way through the House. The Virginia Education Association backed the idea during a committee hearing last week, saying it would also protect teachers.
The legislation also drew support from the local election officials who run polling places.
“It helps give them more opportunities for different spaces within the schools and less problems with traffic and parking and all that stuff,” said Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, the chairman of the House Education Committee.