SIOUX CITY | Election Day could become a holiday of sorts for students who attend Sioux City public schools.
Woodbury County Elections Commissioner Pat Gill said he no longer wants students in school buildings that are used as polling places in November general elections during even-numbered years.
Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
School officials said they will try to grant his request in the interest of student safety.
Gill asked school district officials March 25 if they would consider holding teacher training rather than a regular day of instruction on Election Day every other year. Having only teachers on the premises when voters are in the buildings would cut down on parking and security concerns, he said.
The district usually holds professional development sessions for teachers on Monday afternoons rather than scheduling them for a full day, but district Superintendent Paul Gausman said he'll look into changing that.
"This will add a measure of security," Gausman said this week. "If we can make that happen, we will try to accommodate his request."
If it doesn't happen, Gill said, Sioux City schools will no longer be used as polling places at some point.
Gill said having members of the public mixing with students is a security concern. He said there is an accelerating national trend away from using schools as voting places, particularly after the December shooting spree in a Newtown, Conn., school that killed 26.
All city schools are locked during school days, but Gausman said certain doors are left unlocked during elections so voters can get to the ballot boxes.
"I appreciate his focus on student safety," Gausman said of Gill's efforts. "That has been something that we have discussed, especially in light of recent events in our nation. ... If we were to remove the students from the schools on the days of the election once every other year, certainly that would be the most safe alternative."
For the November 2012 general election, 13 city schools were used as voting places for 13 hours, much longer than the school day. Gill said the number of buildings has dropped significantly since the early 1990s, when schools that were not handicapped-accessible stopped being used for voting.
The only Woodbury County school outside Sioux City that hosted a voting site in 2012 was Kingsley-Pierson Middle School in Pierson. Voting at Sergeant Bluff-Luton district's school ended after a years-long push by the district.
Other Iowa counties, including Dubuque and Linn, are moving away from using schools for voting, Gill said.
Finding replacement sites isn't easy, though.
"We are looking for a few places. In fact, one of the churches turned me down ... I am looking for other options, but it is very difficult to do," said Gill.
At the same time, he's looking into reducing the number of city polling places from 28 during school board and city elections, when state law allows fewer precincts. The Sioux City Council earlier this year favored that plan but later backed away from it.
Gill said he has no intention of using schools as polling places for city or school board elections.
Journal reporter Nate Robson contributed to this story.