AISD Makes Election Day a School Holiday: Should Others Follow Suit?

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Juan Diaz / Hilltop Views

With students currently being able to attend in-person classes, Villa said this decision was made largely to mitigate pandemic-related risks in schools with polling locations. After AISD’s decision to make Election Day a school day, these polling locations were reinstated.

For many voters, this election will be the most important of their lifetime. For some, it will be their first. Yet for others, it will be just another Tuesday. With COVID-19 restrictions relaxing and businesses reopening, people who are typically unable to vote due to work or childcare obligations are forced to go unrepresented yet again. In light of that, Austin Independent School District (AISD) has made Nov. 3 a school holiday this year, allowing students and parents more time to vote. 

On the surface, it may seem that there are plenty of options available for those who will be unable to vote on Election Day. This may not be the case this year as there has been considerable confusion around how many ballot boxes are allowed, how long the wait times are and if it’s safe to vote in person.

AISD spokesperson Eduardo Villa said the school district is unsure if this will become a yearly holiday, though many hope it will. This year, Villa said, it just made sense. Administrators needed to make sure students were safe on Nov. 3 as many schools are opening to thousands of voters as polling places.  

“We thought, OK, let’s make Election Day a student holiday to reduce the amount of people at campuses, [we] won’t have any students around, and we also are welcoming people to our campuses to vote,” Villa said Wednesday. 

With Election Day taking the place of another student holiday during the academic year, eligible students have the day off while the much larger population of teachers and administrators are forced to remain in staff development. This will make it especially hard for teachers who are working at a school that has not been made a polling site to vote. While students are able to avoid the socially-distanced chaos Election Day will bring to their schools, parents are forced to find childcare for another unexpected day. 

AISD’s decision makes Austin and Dallas school districts the largest in Texas to allow students to remain home on Election Day, with Houston allowing students to attend school online for the day. AISD’s decision comes after the Austin City Council passed a resolution establishing every election as an optional city holiday, aptly called “Let Texas Vote Day.” The holiday will allow city employees to request time off to vote, though it doesn’t force employers to pay for those hours. 

As only 65% of eligible voters in Austin voted in the 2016 election, AISD and the City Council hope to encourage voters to let their voice be heard this year, despite the potential financial cost to families. With parents either forced to take the day off to watch their children or pay for childcare and employees unable to take paid time off to vote, many families may not be able to vote in this election either, despite the decisions made by the City Council and AISD. 

If we want to encourage 100% voter turnout, we have to make it a federal holiday, paid for all employees who take time off. It would allow everyone to take the necessary time to vote and give them the financial stability to maintain childcare. Otherwise, those who are most underrepresented in our communities will remain unheard — even in this incredibly important election.