While parents can't enter École élémentaire publique Francojeunesse, a French public elementary school in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood, voters can when they cast their ballots on Sept. 20.
Parent Joël Beddows told Radio-Canada this is the "second not typical year" for families and students. Then on Friday evening, an email arrived in his inbox from Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario (CEPEO) informing him his child's school will be a polling station.
"We're already nervous," Beddows said about his children returning to class during the pandemic.
He agrees parents should not be allowed inside the century-old school building on Osgoode Street. He says it's contradictory to allow voters — vaccinated or unvaccinated — to enter, in addition to Elections Canada employees and volunteers who also do not have to be vaccinated.
No prior consultation, parents say
Beddows said the school board didn't discuss the matter with parents beforehand, which continues a frustrating trend.
"We've had weak communication with the board over the past year and a half," Beddows said. "So this adds another layer for us."
Nearby University of Ottawa declined to be a polling station due to concerns about vaccines, but Beddows wonders why CEPEO didn't do the same.
In a statement issued Monday, CEPEO said Elections Canada requested to use 20 of its schools for polling stations, but the board agreed to rent out eight of them, including five in Ottawa.
The board said it has only rented out schools with a direct exterior entrance to the polling station.
"We want to make it clear that no child or staff member will be in contact with visitors or Elections Canada staff. In addition, in order to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff, we will conduct an increased cleaning of the premises at the close of polling stations," the statement reads.
Keeping children home a possibility
The board also said parents will be allowed to keep their children home, which is what Mindy Sichel has considered.
Sichel is concerned an elementary school, where none of the children are eligible to be vaccinated, was chosen instead of a high school or middle school where many children have their doses.
"Why would you put your polling stations with all these unknown people, all these potentially unvaccinated people, coming into a school where you only have children that cannot be vaccinated?" said Sichel.
Sichel argues several other options remain open to Elections Canada besides schools such as community centres or churches.
Unlike some Ottawa school boards, CEPEO does not require staff to be vaccinated, which has left students "completely vulnerable," said Sichel.
"The only thing that's protecting them is their three-layer cloth mask. So let's do better than that."
Sichel would like the board to declare a personal development (PD) day on Sept. 20 so children will not be in the building when votes are cast, but the board does not plan to do that.
"The only thing I can think of is keeping my kid home," she said. "And that's probably what we would do."