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Investigate Schools Blocking Exits During Gun Safety Walkouts, Cuomo Says

New Rochelle students formed the word "Enough" on National Walkout Day.
New Rochelle students formed the word "Enough" on National Walkout Day. Photo Credit: Contributed

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New Castle called on the New York State Education Department Commissioner to investigate public schools that blocked exits this week when students decided to walk out in memory of 17 students and teachers killed in the recent mass shooting at Parkvale, Fla.

Cuomo asked the commissioner to direct schools to "cease unconstitutional disciplinary action against students and teachers who participated in (the) gun safety walkout."

Cuomo issued the following open letter to New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia:

Dear Commissioner Elia,

Yesterday, I proudly stood shoulder to shoulder with brave students and faculty who spoke out against gun violence. History provides moments where real change is possible, and the thousands of students who participated in organized walk-outs all throughout the state are seizing the moment and admirably standing up for the safety of their classmates and students across the country.

In the last 24 hours, there have been several reports of New York State schools disciplining students and faculty for participating in yesterday's historic events to stop gun violence. In at least one disturbing incident, it was reported that the school physically blocked the exits to prevent students from demonstrating.

These actions send a terrible message to New York's children and are against constitutional free speech protections. I call on you to use SED's authority to stop these schools, reverse course and cease any disciplinary actions.

Peaceful expression of views on controversial issues that is not disruptive or threatening is a right that all students have in this country, and any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of students and faculty to free speech. Threatening to discipline students for participating in the peaceful demonstrations is not only inappropriate, it is unconstitutional. Reports that schools may also discipline faculty are also highly concerning and would send a terrible message to our students.

The students who participated in the walk-out are trying to advance laws and actions that would save their lives, and many viewed their participation as necessary to their own safety. The scourge of mass shootings in schools is very real, and these students were taking proactive steps to protect themselves and their classmates. These actions, coupled with the peaceful manner in which the demonstrations were conducted, is something that should be lauded, not punished.

Additionally, I call on you to thoroughly investigate any reports of schools that blocked the exits to physically prevent students from leaving during the event. This an egregious safety violation and it is also unlawful.

Yesterday's actions were a testament to the courage and leadership of New York's students. As I said yesterday, these young people are showing more leadership than the so-called leaders in Washington. To punish or discipline them is inconsistent with the freedom of expression that we cherish. It would say more about the adults imposing discipline than it would about the students who exercised their rights to speak out.

Sincerely,

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

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