Poll workers will stand at the ready at dozens of Denton County school campuses at 7 a.m. Tuesday for Election Day. That’s roughly 15 minutes before teachers and staff arrive, and about an hour before Denton students start class.
Some Texas schools designate national elections as holidays, so that voters and poll workers don’t cross paths with students, faculty and staff on campus.
But on Tuesday, Denton County school districts will host both students and voters, adjusting schedules and rotations to avoid interaction between the two. And for many, this year’s midterm elections prompted some leaders to take additional measures to keep students and voters separate.
The Texas Association of School Boards, a state agency that advocates for Texas public schools in the state Legislature, said some Texas schools opted to close their campuses because voter turnout is predicted to be high and school leaders are concerned about security.
“Many campuses across Texas were polling locations for run-off elections on May 24, 2022, the day of the school shooting in Uvalde,” the association said on its website. “Although Robb Elementary, the location of the tragedy, was not a polling location, events that day highlight the potential vulnerabilities schools face when hundreds of adults come to a campus to vote.”
Texas schools are legally required to make campuses available as polling places, but districts get to decide which parts of a campus are open to voters so that interactions with students and staff are limited.
Thirteen precincts will vote on Denton ISD campuses, with an additional three precincts voting at district buildings.
District leadership announced the polling locations earlier during campaign season on its website. Parents were given the option to keep their students home on Election Day; those who keep their students home can get an excused absence by simply writing “election” on their campus website portal.
“State statute does not permit Denton ISD to decline the request for use of facilities for this purpose,” officials said in a statement. “In the interest of the safety of our students and staff, Denton ISD is making every effort to separate the area that will be used by the public for voting from the areas used by students and staff for academics.”
In prior elections, campuses were chosen according to a different criteria.
“It was based on the layout of the campus in prior years,” said Julie Zwahr, Denton ISD’s chief communications officer. “This year, we are creating a definite separation from our students. Denton County election officials determined which sites would be used. Laws dictate that the buildings used for these purposes be ADA-compliant and have plenty of parking. Also, buildings used on Election Day, since voters must vote in their specific precinct, are required to physically be located within the precinct.”
Zwahr said the district didn’t want to pull student resource officers from other campuses to increase security at polling places.
“Since Denton ISD includes more than the city of Denton, we have confirmed that law enforcement officials and officers, in addition to our student resource officers, will be on hand. They represent Denton County Sheriff’s Office, Krum Police Department, county constables and Denton Fire and Rescue,” she said.
Some security measures are procedural. Denton ISD officials said voters won’t enter campus buildings through the front doors. Instead, they will enter at designated entries, which will have signs directing them to the polls. Because most polling places on campus will be in gymnasiums, libraries or non-classroom areas, students won’t interact with voters.
Denton ISD has also partnered with local PTA and PTO groups, local service clubs and vetted volunteers to give extra adult supervision on campuses on Election Day.
The students’ school day will accommodate voters so that the two groups don’t share physical space.
“We will find alternate locations for the class that day — for example, gym class may take place outside. Libraries are used by classes on a rotational basis,” Zwahr said.
While smaller Texas school districts are closing for the day for the general election, Zwahr said Denton ISD couldn’t justify a school closure because of timing and the number of campuses impacted.
“The election will involve 13 of our 43 campuses, so canceling classes for all of our students would result in lost instructional time for all students rather than just those families who opt to stay home,” she said. “Many students rely on our schools for meals and other supports, which we work to maintain unless there is an emergency, like bad weather. Also, the decision to utilize schools as election sites was communicated to us far after the instructional calendar was set one year ago.”
Other local school districts are also hosting voters. Krum ISD will have three precincts casting ballots in the district administration building. Little Elm ISD will host voters at Little Elm High School. Argyle ISD will host voters at a district building that used to be the intermediate school, but is now a surplus building. The building was closed when Argyle South Elementary School opened for the fall.
Additionally, Frisco, Lewisville and Carrollton-Farmer’s Branch school districts have campuses doubling as polling locations on Tuesday.
The polls are open on Election Day, Nov. 8, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information about where to vote, visit VoteDenton.gov.