Parents, members of the school board and administrators want the Fayette County Board of Elections to relocate the polling place for Bullskin Township District 1 — the second largest district in the county — away from Bullskin Township Elementary School because it poses a safety and security concern for the students who attend the school.
“Unfortunately, in the era we live in today, security, safety, mental health awareness; those all become factors when we talk about our kids in our schools,” said Connellsville Area School District Interim Superintendent David McDonald at a hearing Monday to consider a petition by township voters to relocate the polling place.
“Voting at Bullskin has been something that’s happened traditionally. Last February, how we approach school safety and security changed drastically. It should’ve changed years ago. But last February, with the incident at Stoneman Douglas High School, it got our country’s attention.”
And, according to McDonald, that isn’t just a concern when school is in session, but anytime people come into the school environment. Drastic changes have been made, including security checkpoints, checking bags and other safety procedures that are going to make voting at the school challenging and prolonged.
In fact, McDonald said that if voting continues at Bullskin, there will have to be extreme changes to ensure the safety of the children, including the possible relocation of where voting occurs within the school, restrictions on the use of restrooms in the school and parking adjustments that some voters in the district claim are already frustrating, especially at peak times such as school arrival and dismissal times.
The county’s election board, which is comprised of Commissioners Angela M. Zimmerlink, Vince Vicites and Dave Lohr, held the hearing to discuss the issue, but did not make a decision on the matter because a suitable location to move the polling place to hasn’t been yet been found.
In order to bring the petition, a minimum of 10 voters in the district are required. The petition was brought by 23 voters in that voting district. Also, a digital petition was circulated which was signed by 250 parents and community members — some voters and some not — to have the polling place relocated.
School district officials reported that the Pleasant Valley Masonic Center had communicated that they would be willing to host the polling place, but that contradicts information that has been given to the head of the election bureau.
According to Director Larry Blosser, the center is unavailable to hold voting because it has a longtime tenant who uses the center the first Tuesday of every month and they aren’t willing to change their meeting dates — a fact that was confirmed by staff while the hearing was taking place.
Since the school district’s information contradicts the bureau’s information, the board encouraged district officials to work with Blosser and his staff to find additional locations that could be considered. The board encouraged the school district to work with the election bureau to come up with some additional locations to consider and a new hearing would be scheduled before mid-September, which is the bureau’s deadline for relocation since voters and candidates have to be adequately notified prior to the general election in November.
McDonald said initially they were concerned about seeking out alternate locations prior to the meeting, but that now they would be pleased to work together with the election bureau to find a suitable location that meets all of the criteria for size, parking and American Disabilities Act requirements in the precinct.
Blosser spoke with township supervisors to obtain a list of possible sites, which included the Masonic center, a fellowship hall located across the street from the school, Pleasant Valley Golf Club and the Bullskin Township building. The township building was determined not to be big enough to handle voting in the precinct which includes nearly 2,500 voters. The fellowship hall rejected the opportunity to host a polling place and the private club is in the midst of a renovation which would prevent them from being able to be a polling place.
Blosser added that some suggestions that have been made are in the other voting precinct in Bullskin Township, so could not be used as a polling place for this precinct.
A date for a new hearing has not yet been set.