Fairfax Co. May Close Schools Over GOP Loyalty Pledge Concerns | NBC4 Washington

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Fairfax Co. May Close Schools Over GOP Loyalty Pledge Concerns

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    News4's Jackie Bensen talks about a new controversy in Fairfax County over a request to close schools on primary election day, March 1. (Published Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016)

    A concern that primary voters angry over a GOP loyalty pledge could cause disruption at the polls prompted the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to vote to discuss with the school board whether schools should be closed that day.

    The Board voted 9-1 to ask school officials to discuss changing the schedule March 1 from starting on a two-hour delay to opting for a full closure.Their decision came after Electoral Board Secretary Kate Hanley informed the supervisors of her concerns.

    "The law in Virginia allows for parties to ask for [the loyalty pledge]," she explained. "The Republican Party asked for it, so if you come to the election official with your Republican ballot and haven't signed the statement of affiliation, the election official cannot give you a ballot." 

    Some 167 Fairfax County schools are used as polling places. Virginia voters don't register by party, but in this primary, voters who want to cast a GOP ballot must first sign a loyalty oath to the state in which they are Republicans. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has harshly criticized the loyalty oath, and his supporters have gone to court to try to challenge the requirement.

    Hanley told the supervisors she's worried voters could cause trouble at the polls if they protest the requirement.

    In response to the Board vote, Fairfax County's schools superintendent sent parents an online note assuring them there are no plans right now to cancel class on March 1.

    Wrote Karen Garza: "Today’s suggestion to close schools on March 1 came as a complete surprise to both FCPS staff and the School Board. FCPS will be reaching out to the Elections Office to learn more about the new security concerns that have been raised. FCPS will continue to keep the community informed regarding any new developments."

    Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said the school board already considered the issue. 

    "I was on the school board when we first dealt with this issue, and the school board considered whether we should not have school that day or should have a two-hour delay, and there was a real feeling that education is important to students," she said. "It's great for them to see the process of people coming to vote."

    Some Trump supporters accuse the Fairfax County supervisors of raising the issue to draw negative attention to  Trump. Trump's Virginia campaign Chairman Corey Stewart said protests are not expected, nor is violence.

    "These allegations are an attempt by establishment Republicans, in collusion with Democratic officials, to malign Trump supporters as violent and insinuate that the campaign is inciting violence," said Stewart.

    For now, classes in Fairfax County are scheduled to begin two hours late on March 1.