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La Joya ISD sticks with Peñitas polling site

La Joya ISD announced Friday that despite the regime change, the district doesn’t intend to renege on a commitment to let Hidalgo County use Peñitas’ John F. Kennedy Elementary as a polling site.

In a split vote two months ago, La Joya ISD’s school board opted to OK a request from the Hidalgo County Elections Department to use the school for the 2024 election cycle.

Critical trustees expressed safety concerns.

The city of Peñitas expressed those concerns as well, formally asking the district to reconsider the decision in December.

Where to vote in Peñitas has been a controversial question for years, sometimes so controversial that it winds up in court.

Generally speaking, the debate comes down to whether people should vote at JFK or the city’s library, basically its municipal headquarters.

Safety concerns and worries over unfair political advantage are usually the fuel for argument over the dispute.

Functionally, however, the argument tends to boil down along western Hidalgo County partisan lines.

The Texas Education Agency installing a new superintendent and a board of managers at La Joya ISD earlier this month breathed new life into the debate.

“As the upcoming elections draw near, we kindly request that the decision made by the previous board and superintendent to use JFK Elementary as a political site be reconsidered,” La Joya AFT President Brenda Lee Salinas said to the board in a public comment at its very first meeting this month. “We firmly believe that this decision was unethical and in politic, and the safety of our students and school employees must be of utmost priority over political interests. So let’s work together to ensure that our campuses become safe havens for all our students and school employees.”

The city of Peñitas said it would cooperate with the district on the site at the same meeting.

“In regard to the city of Peñitas voting site located at JFK Elementary school, the city’s available for any onsite assistance as needed. The city will handle any offsite issues governed by the city ordinance,” said Martha Muñoz, a city employee who spoke on behalf of city leadership, told the board.

The district announced last Friday that it’s stuck with the agreement the previous board made.

“Following discussions and seeking legal guidance from our new legal counsel, it has been determined that we are bound by the previous agreement regarding the polling site that was voted on by the previous Board of Trustees and the previous administration,” Superintendent Marcey Sorensen wrote in an open letter.

Sorensen said electioneering won’t be permitted at the campus, that voters won’t be allowed inside the school and that six additional police officers will be assigned to the campus.

The district met with Peñitas’s police chief and city officials about election safety last week, she said.

“While this is not the outcome that some of our community may want at this time, I will seek to review our options in terms of Board and Local policy moving forward and bring recommendations to the Board for future action,” Sorensen wrote. “We are grateful for the collaborative efforts of our local municipalities in prioritizing the safety and continued learning of our students and staff. Your support and cooperation are invaluable as we navigate through this process.”

 

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