School Voters (copy)

Weaver students walk from their bus to vote early at the old Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro on Monday.

Oh, the horror!

Young people are leaving their high school campuses in droves ... to (gulp) vote.

That pretty much sums up the current tempest in our Guilford County Schools.

Some students are following up civics lessons on elections and voting by — gasp! — going to the polls to actually practice what they’ve learned. And, even more mortifying, the school system has dared to provide bus transportation for early voting.

School board member Linda Welborn, a Republican, smells something wicked.

But wait a minute. Isn’t voting worth instilling as a habit and a duty in young people? And doesn’t state law encourage voting and, in fact, explicitly mandate that “every public high school shall make available to its students and others who are eligible to register to vote the application forms ... and shall keep a sufficient supply of the forms so that they are always available”?

Though some critics of the voting trips have suggested that students are being forced or indoctrinated to vote a certain way, that presupposes a vast conspiracy, doesn’t it? Sure doesn’t seem like one.

The initiative, conceived by the school system’s social studies department, involved both voter registration and education. Representatives of You Can Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voter education program, visited classrooms to brief students on the voting process and the offices on the ballot.

The optional trips to the polls are being made available at all of Guilford County’s traditional high schools — in blue and red communities — as well as high school academies and early and middle colleges. Also, parents must sign permission slips in advance.

When the News & Record’s Jessie Pounds observed about 30 students from Weaver Academy voting Monday at the Old Guilford County Courthouse, she saw a representative from the League of Women Voters provide a quick primer. And she heard positive reviews from first-time student voters.

“I think everybody gets focused on presidential (races),” student Helena Franca said, “but this made us get focused on local races, which is what affects us the most.”

As to whether the transportation component — which appears to be a first for North Carolina — should have been communicated more clearly and completely before the fact, Superintendent Sharon Contreras disagrees. “In 17 years no field trip has ever come before the board,” Contreras said Tuesday, referring to the school board. “Not one time.”

“No one says anything when we take all middle schoolers to the ACC Women’s Tournament.”

Guilford County Schools routinely does provide student field trips to concerts, museums and, yes, even college basketball games. But, by not communicating the initiative to bus eligible students to the polls, Contreras did provide unnecessary fodder to critics and conspiracy theorists.

Meanwhile, impressed by what it has seen in Guilford County, Wake County Schools is considering following suit next year with its own buses to the polls. It’s an idea worth spreading, though odds are somebody won’t like it. Especially in this state, where making it harder to vote has become a popular pastime. That’s what really ought to be scaring us.

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