Board Votes to Close West Hartford Schools on Primary Day

The 2019-2020 West Hartford Public Schools calendar will be amended to indicate a day off on April 28.

West Hartford Public Schools will not be in session on April 28, 2020.

By Ronni Newton

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to cancel school on April 28, 2020, the date Connecticut’s presidential primary will be held.

Superintendent Tom Moore said when the calendar for the 2019-2020 school year was adopted the primary had not been scheduled.

The issue of closing school on primary day was brought up at a meeting last month, and Board member Mark Zydanowicz, with agreement of his colleagues, had asked Moore to bring it forward for as an agenda item before the November municipal election, so the decision could be made by the current Board, which has experience with schools being open during elections.

Moore said he discussed the issue with principals of the schools where voting takes place, and all agreed that security is a challenge because people can’t be asked to show ID to enter the school building as visitors are on a regular basis. “No matter how much we secure an offsite area, the fact is we have invested so much in security, to shift for that one day doesn’t seem prudent. … Principals are unanimous that have those buildings [where voting takes place] and don’t feel comfortable with school in session.”

Moore asked the Board to consider either treating April 28 as a snow day – and tacking on an extra day at the end of the school year – or using it for professional development for teachers, and allowing students to have one fewer day of school than planned.

Agreeing to reduce the school year by a day would set a precedent, Moore said.

Moore also noted that when professional development is held on an election day, cars fill parking lots which could dissuade potential voters – particularly seniors – who may think it’s too crowded. A professional development program on cultural competency will take place on the upcoming Nov. 5 Election Day, but the district planned long in advance to have teachers park offsite in the parking lot of the former UConn campus, where they will be bused to the session.

While all Board members initially agreed school should be closed April 28, they did debate whether it should be a cancellation of school or a professional development day for teachers.

“It breaks my heart in a way – people just come to exercise their civic duty,” said Board member Dave Pauluk, but he said in the uncertain times in which we now live, we can’t do it. “I think a snow day would be the way to go.”

Board member Amanda Aronson initially recommended a professional development day, noting that people who are planning to vote in a primary likely would do so anyway, and it would be more productive for teachers who have already been planning on April 28 as a work day.

Lorna Thomas-Farquharson asked if it would be possible to use the 11 schools that are not polling places as sites for professional development. Moore said five schools are currently used for voting, but they are the biggest schools. “You can’t fit all of Conard teachers at Morley,” he said.

Zydanowicz mentioned that the safety of teachers who would be at the schools should also be considered.

After hearing from fellow Board members, Aronson and Thomas-Farquharson both decided it made more sense to cancel school for the day.

Board Chair Carol Blanks said she was leaning toward preferring a professional development day as well, but hearing about seniors and the safety of staff, she also chose having a snow day. “That’s the safest way to go about this for everyone.”

“Regrettably I am also in favor of having no school that day,” said Deb Polun, acknowledging that it’s really difficult for working parents who need to arrange childcare. She said she has had a conversation with Mayor Shari Cantor and is urging Cantor to have the Town Council to do a study to determine if in the future polling places could be moved out of the schools.

Both student Board representatives said they also favored a school day.

If there are no snow days, the last day of school for the current academic year will be Friday, June 12, 2020, rather than Thursday, June 11, 2020.

Information about the calendar change will be sent out to parents through newsletters, and will be repeated in subsequent newsletters, Moore said. He added that the district will also reach out to local organizations that provide children’s programming to ensure they are aware of the additional day schools will be closed.

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