Falmouth School Board looks to change polling place

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FALMOUTH — Citing concerns about student safety and security, the School Board will likely request that the town’s polling place be moved from the high school gymnasium.

At a facilities committee subcommittee meeting Tuesday, board members and staff outlined the need to find a different polling station. The committee also talked about restricting pets on school grounds during school events.

Superintendent of Schools Geoff Bruno said the major concern during polling is safety, especially when students are in school during November elections. 

“It presents a lot of safety concerns,” Bruno said.

For example, Director of Finance and Operations Dan O’Shea said, someone with restricted access to schools grounds, such as a registered sex offender, could come to vote. Bruno also called the current practice “disruptive,” as well as a potential security concern.

Like a number of other towns that use schools as a polling place, classes at Falmouth Public Schools have been canceled for Election Day, Nov. 8.

School Board Chairwoman Lucy Tucker said she didn’t see any particular benefit to having the high school gymnasium serve as the town’s polling place.

“The safety of our kids is paramount,” she said. “This is a no-brainer to me.”

One idea floated would be moving the polling place to the Mason-Motz activity center on Lunt Road. Board member Danielle Tracy said since the space is a community center, it is “asking for people to be there.” Board member Jennifer Libby said Mason-Motz is the “perfect place for that.”

Bruno said in addition to the school department, Falmouth Police Department officials support the move. He said having School Board support “would send a strong message.”

Going forward, board members and staff discussed reopening the topic as a new business item at an upcoming board meeting, while also continuing the conversation with Town Manager Nathan Poore.

Pets on school grounds

Falmouth public schools only has a policy in place that covers the presence of service animals on school property. Bruno said some surrounding school districts, such as Topsham, have policies that prohibit other animals from being on school grounds when students are present. He cautioned, however, that animal policies can often be difficult to enforce.

Restricting pets would also be challenging because the school campus abuts Community Park, where people with dogs often use the trail system.

Rather than adopting a new policy that governs pets on school grounds, the committee was more inclined to increase signage on the fields about restricting pets during school events, which is much easier to enforce, Bruno said. Board member Caryn Bickerstaff, who chairs the board’s policy committee, said committee members could also update the service animal policy to state that only service animals are allowed on school grounds.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.