School systems across North Carolina are putting together their calendars for the 2019-2020 school year this month, a task that kindles the annual debate about districts getting more flexibility from the state to set their own schedules. School systems do have some say over their schedules already — in Mecklenburg County, parents have been invited to vote on three potential calendars. In Wake, officials are contemplating an old issue: What to do about school on Election Day?
Dozens of Wake schools serve as voting precincts, same as in Mecklenburg, where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have had a teacher workday on Election Day for years. Wake officials are considering doing the same by making Nov. 3, 2020, a teacher workday, the News & Observer reports. That would give students the day off on what’s expected to be a high turnout election.
It’s a common sense safety and logistical measure that all districts should take. But if school systems are going to give students the day off, why not teachers, too?
That’s what districts across the country have done, including Indianapolis-area schools that called Election Day 2016 “Teacher Professional Day” and encouraged personnel to use that day in the best way possible — by voting. “Our city and state have seen historic lows in voter participation,” district officials said in a statement then. “Our hope is that students gain an appreciation for how important election day is and employees take advantage of the opportunity to vote and get engaged in important topics on the ballot.”
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The same could apply to North Carolina, where teachers have good reason to be engaged — as many are — in picking the elected officials who determine their salaries and make critical decisions about public school issues. And while teachers, like everyone else, have the opportunity to participate in early voting, educators’ schedules often don’t allow them to take advantage of the weekday hours that early voting is offered. It doesn’t help that N.C. lawmakers decreased the number of early locations by 17 percent statewide.
If you’re wondering why teachers should get preferential Election Day treatment, well, that’s an excellent question. We think all state and municipal-level North Carolina employees should be given at least a window of a couple hours to vote. Thirty states require employers to offer some time off to vote — usually two hours and often at the beginning or end of shifts. In fact, it’s long past time for lawmakers to consider making Election Day a national holiday — a celebration of democracy and participation in it. Our country sorely needs that reminder. Voter turnout in the U.S. continues to trail most developed countries, and when the U.S. Census asked non-voters why they didn’t cast a ballot, work conflicts were the most commonly cited reason.
Schools, and other government offices, are a good, public place to start fixing that. Mecklenburg and Wake school officials should make Election Day a day off instead of a teacher workday. Let’s make at least one thing easier on teachers and set an example for all employers to follow.