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AISD establishes 2020 Election Day as school holiday

Wednesday, September 30, 2020 by Savana Dunning

Austin Independent School District students now have Election Day off this year following a decision by the AISD Board of Trustees to declare Tuesday, Nov. 3, a school holiday.

The board voted to amend the 2020-21 school calendar at its Sept. 28 meeting, removing a previously established school holiday on Oct. 12 for parent conferences, called a professional development day, and adding a school holiday for Nov. 3.

This change to the calendar is solely for the 2020-21 school year. AISD spokesperson Eduardo Villa said the school district has not established whether this sets a precedent for future election years.

“This is definitely a first that I know of,” Villa said. “With this going forward, I’m sure our superintendent would like to make this a recurring event for every election season that comes around.”

With students transitioning to in-person classes in October, Villa said the decision was made largely to mitigate pandemic-related risks in schools with polling locations.

“We thought, OK, let’s make Election Day a student holiday to reduce the amount of people at campuses, won’t have any students around, and we also are welcoming people to our campuses to vote and pushing that as well to our eligible students to go out and vote,” Villa said.

Schools had been removed from the list of polling locations out of concern for potential virus spread on Election Day. When AISD was in discussions about establishing Nov. 3 as a holiday, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told KUT that the move would allow the county to reestablish those polling locations.

Villa said the idea came from recently elected Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde, who presented the new holiday to the board. Prior to starting the job in Austin, Elizalde helped pass a similar calendar change in July while working as the chief of schools for Dallas Independent School District. AISD’s decision makes Austin ISD and Dallas ISD the biggest school districts in Texas to have an election holiday, with Houston ISD deciding to host all classes online that day.

AISD’s decision comes seven months after City Council passed a resolution establishing every election day a citywide holiday called Let Texas Vote Day. Proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, the new optional holiday allows city employees to request up to eight hours off to vote in the November general election, and up to four hours off for primaries and runoffs.

The 2016 polling numbers sparked Garza’s interest in establishing a holiday for election days. According to the Travis County Clerk’s website, only 65 percent of registered voters in the county cast ballots in 2016. Garza said that while the decision to keep the holiday optional will keep the city from losing money, she wishes it were an established paid holiday, like the Fourth of July.

“It’s a holiday with a name, but we can only direct the benefits to city employees,” Garza said. “We would have preferred that it was that kind of holiday, hard and fast rule, everybody’s off, (and) if you do work you get some kind of holiday pay.”

This new optional holiday sets a concrete amount of paid time off for city employees to be allowed to vote, expanding on a Texas law that entitles all Texas employees to request time off if the employee does not have two consecutive hours available outside of work to vote, but allows employers to decide how much time off is permitted. Garza doesn’t think many people are aware this law exists, as she discovered it while researching her resolution.

Although Villa said the AISD decision is not a result of Let Texas Vote Day, Garza said it’s a good example of what Let Texas Vote Day is trying to do – establishing the importance of voting for Austin families.

“I feel like it’s a good opportunity to start that conversation with kiddos,” Garza said. “The earlier we can start to have those conversations with the community, the better.”

Although the resolution’s scope is limited to city employees, Garza said she hopes private employers will take the holiday as an opportunity to provide the benefit to their workers.

“If I own a cupcake bar and I have 10 employees, the hope is that I say, hey guys, Tuesday is Let Texas Vote Day in Austin and I’m giving you guys the day off …. Go vote, go volunteer to help people vote,’” Garza said. “Obviously we’d prefer there’d be pay for the employees, but that’s up to private employers.”

Since the resolution passed in February, the Covid-19 pandemic has complicated the city’s plans to celebrate the first Let Texas Vote Day. Garza said the city is planning a more official launch for Let Texas Vote Day sometime closer to the election, although a date has not been set.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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