The Fairfax County (Va.) district has canceled classes on March 1--the day of the Super Tuesday primary--bowing to concerns that a large turnout of voters would disrupt school operations at campuses that serve as polling places.
Fairfax County--Virginia's largest school system and one of the nation's largest with nearly 190,000 students--voted to close its campuses even though it has usually kept school in session on primary election days.
"Record voter turnouts in New Hampshire and Iowa, and anticipation of an historic voter turnout from the Fairfax County Office of Elections, led the board to believe that there could be significant logistical issues regarding parking and building access," the school district says in a news release. "The board was also concerned that the sheer number of citizens entering schools to vote will make it difficult to conduct a normal school day."
The Fairfax County Electoral Board, which had urged schools to be closed for the primary, expressed its appreciation for the school board's action.
"Given the numbers indicating interest in this primary election, including absentee voting and voter registration, we knew that it would be a huge challenge to run two primary elections (Democrat and Republican) in each school and provide a normal school day for our students," the electoral board says in a news release.
The electoral board also noted that Virginia's second-largest district--Prince William County--had also decided to close schools on March 1.
In 2014, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended that schools should continue to be used as polling places, but said classes should not be held on election days. In the November 2012 election, more than a third of U.S. votes cast their ballots in school facilities.
Officials in Fairfax County anticipated that having a thousand or more voters descending on some districgt schools would interfere with student instruction: Teachers, students, voters and election officers would have to vie for limited parking spaces, and voting machines would be situated in cafeterias, gymnasiums and other large spaces regularly used by students,
The Fairfax County electoral board says 69 percent of its polling places--167 out of 242--are in public schools. "We must be prepared for a robust turnout in Fairfax County, which has 712,312 registered voters," the Fairfax County Electoral Board says.
Of those school polling laces, 124 are on elementary campuses "with very limited parking and restricted access in and around buildings," the district says.