Parents oppose use of schools as polling stations amid pandemic

As Canadians prepare to head to the polls in less than a week, some parents are expressing concerns that schools will be used as public voting locations.

Those same schools are closed to parents whose children attend class because of strict COVID-19 regulations.

When polling stations open for the federal dlection on Monday morning, sections of schools, from across Ottawa will open their doors to area voters as well. For parent Michelle Stinziano, who cannot enter the schoolyard to see her two children into class because of protective policies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the polling station plans seem contradictory.

“I have no problem adhering to it for the safety of the kids who aren’t vaccinated,” says Stinziano. “Parents have not been allowed to step foot inside the building, we haven’t been allowed to comfort our children on their first day of school, and yet, now, potentially hundreds of people in our community are going to be entering into the school while it’s in session.”

Diane Benson with Elections Canada says for the past year, returning officers have worked closely with school boards, health officials and the Ministry of Education in order to create guidelines that are used to find suitable polling locations.

“There are definitely far fewer schools being used in this pandemic situation than there would have been in previous elections,” says Benson, “because they don’t meet COVID-19 protocols, they’re not big enough, or they’re just not available because we can’t give that physical distancing that we need to have for both the electors coming in and for the workers that are in there and would ensure that any voting activity was going to be quite separate from what was going on in the schools and quite separate from where the children were.”

For a school to be chosen by Elections Canada, the following conditions must be met:

  • There is a direct path to the location of the polling station;
  • There are separate entrance(s) and exit(s); and
  • There is space to keep students and staff separate from the public - including the children in the licensed child care centres co-located in our school.

Polling stations will also have additional guidelines in place for voters and staff:

  • Elections Canada is mandating that all staff must wear masks;
  • Residents will be required to wear a mask to cast their ballot;
  • Masks will be available on-site for anyone who does not have one;
  • Disposable pencils, hand sanitizing stations and physical distancing measures with directional signage will be in place at all polling station entrances and exits;
  • There will also be fewer poll workers at stations this year to reduce physical interactions with voters;
  • There will only be one poll worker per desk, which will be separated from electors by Plexiglas; and
  • Door handles and workstations, and other surfaces will be sanitized regularly.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School board, the city’s largest, will be allowing the use of 11 schools, ten of which are secondary, as well as three additional OCDSB voting locations.

All four Ottawa school boards have agreed to lend space on Election Day.

For Stinziano, she wanted her children's elementary school, in the community of Riverside South, to have provided a note to parents.

“I mean we’re six days away from Election Day and still no communication has been received,” she says. “I will most likely be keeping my kids home on Monday if I don’t have comfort level with the safety precautions.”