By Benjamin Coren
Billingshurst Primary School is opposing the district council decision to close one of their school halls to be used as a polling station in the upcoming general election following the introduction of Universal Free School Meals (UFSM) and the need to feed 350 pupils.
The upcoming election is to take place on May 7, 2015, and the schools feels it has been forced by Horsham District Council to close the hall for the whole day of the election.
Headteacher, Helen Williamson said: “In the past, the school has been used as a Polling Station. With the introduction of Universal Free School Meals and the need for both our halls to feed over 350 children, I declined the use of the school when approached by Horsham District Council.
“Since then there has been a great deal of discussion with HDC as to why I am unwilling to disrupt the education and welfare of the youngest children at the school because I have to shut one hall off to be used as a Polling Station. I have even offered alternative suggestions for locations in the village and have offered to mediate between these other organisations to arrange the hire.”
Alternative locations suggested by Helen Williamson included the Billingshurst Scout hut and the village hall.
Mrs Williamson said: “It is, I believe, unacceptable to disrupt the education and legal entitlements of the children of this village when other sites are more suitable. I appreciate any parent who has the time to support my view to ensure we do not suffer this disruption again.”
The school asked parents to email the returning officer, Tom Crowley who responded with a statement to all parents and the school.
Mr Crowley, in his letter wrote : “A polling station has been located at the school since 2009 with the full and continuing support of Local Educations Authority. We first informed the school of our intention to use one of the two halls at the school as a polling station on May 7 for the general election and local elections on July 23, 2014, which, in my opinion allowed plenty of time for arrangements, such as inset days to be made.”
He further wrote that no other premises would be suitable in terms of access for disabled people, size and location.
Tom Crowley wrote: “Elections take place on a single day no more than once a year and therefore the level of disruption to schools is minimal when judged against the importance of supporting the democratic process.”
Schools have a legal duty to offer free hot meals to infant pupils at lunchtime every day.