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Potential school violence on voting day pondered by Long Island politician

Paul Bernieri casts his vote as his son

Paul Bernieri casts his vote as his son Nicholas, 8, looks on at the polling place at Garden City High School. (Nov. 6, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan)

State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) Thursday announced proposed legislation requiring the state Board of Elections and the state Education Department to study the possible safety risk posed when schools are used as polling places.

“There’s one day a year when just about anyone can walk into a school, and that’s Election Day,” said Boyle, who described the legislation as precautionary “in the wake of tragedies like Newtown’s.”

Boyle said he is looking for an Assembly sponsor.

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Some low-cost strategies to minimize risk to students or staff might include scheduling school holidays or teacher conferences on days when schools are being used as polling places, he said. Another might be to hire additional guards on those days, though he stressed any new law would not pass on costs to individual school districts.

West Babylon schools superintendent Tony Cacciola and school board president Diane Thiel, who flanked Boyle as he spoke and said they supported the bill, said the district already takes some precautionary measures. West Babylon schools that serve as polling places during major elections typically are closed for conferences on those days, they said. When smaller elections are held, the schools generally put an additional security guard on duty.

The district also is exploring a pilot program that would give police access to surveillance footage of the schools, they said. “We’re all living in a different world, post-Sandy Hook,” Cacciola said, referring to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the deadliest in the nation’s history.

Boyle said he knew of no incidents where someone had taken advantage of Election Day access to commit school violence but pointed out 216 of 342 polling places in Suffolk County are located in schools. “We want to make sure it never happens,” he said.

Earlier this month Boyle co-sponsored legislation to repeal and replace new gun control legislation approved earlier this year. The two bills are “completely separate,” Boyle said.

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