Mom raises safety concerns about school as polling place

Mom says it gives the general public access to classrooms

During the general elections on Tuesday, four La Crosse schools were used for polling places, but now one mother is raising concern about her son’s safety.

In 2008, city of La Crosse residents passed a referendum to increase security measures at schools. That includes locked doors and security cameras to identify people before letting them into the building. However, a mother of four was surprised yesterday to find that all the security measures put in place from the last referendum were not fully being used at the school during this polling process.

Charity Lotte-Wilk’s 8-year-old son goes to Emerson Elementary school. She said Tuesday morning started off like any other day…

“I dropped my son off in the usual manner at the front of the school and watched him walk in through the front door and drove away,” said Lotte-Wilk.

However, Emerson Elementary was being used as a polling place.

“It’s been a tradition. I know it’s been in this district and I know it’s been in other districts across the state, if not across the nation, to use schools as polling places,” said Randy Nelson, superintendent of the La Crosse School District.

After Lotte-Wilk learned that the public had access to the school, she went back and decided to enter the building. To her surprise, she opened a door that is usually locked.

“To walk through that door and to pull and feel that door open was like a pit in my stomach; my child is not safe, not a good feeling,” said Lotte-Wilk.

So she did the one thing she thought she could do, she took her son out of school.

“I told him I am taking him out today because he was not safe,” said Lotte-Wilk. “I was one person that walked into the school, walked through the entire hallway to my child’s classroom, pass many other classrooms, pass many other innocent children, and got to my child’s classroom, and I had good intent. It takes one person with ill intent and we would be discussing a whole different story here today.”

Nelson said safety measures were in place.

“We did have in place the security cameras; we were watching the polling places with our security cameras,” said Nelson.

Nelson said only the doors deemed necessary were open for voters to enter the building.

“We take each building separately. We do a hazard analysis, a safety analysis of every building that is going to be a polling place so that we can determine what’s the best to move people in and out of the building to have the least amount of contact with the children,” said Nelson.

However, Nelson understands Lotte-Wilk’s concerns about school safety.

“Does it make sense to continue to do that and use our schools as polling places? It’s a great question and it’s one that we’ve been discussing for several months and something that will be discussed in the future,” said Nelson.

But for now, Lotte-Wilk feels like the school district needs to regain her trust

“I am not pointing fingers or blaming. I want responsibility, I want acknowledgement and I want change. I want to my son to be safe when I send him to school and I want that to be a priority,” said Lotte-Wilk.

Lotte-Wilk made it very clear that she knew about the upcoming referendum and general election, but she would have liked more communication about the polling places so that she could have done something before choosing to pull her son out of school.

It’s important to note that the schools are public and are used on many different occasions for citywide events.