Tags Posts tagged with "gun legislation"

gun legislation

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

As students and districts deal with the aftermath of a nationwide student walkout March 14, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has made it clear where he stands on punishments for those who participated.

“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,” Cuomo said in part in an open letter to New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in an open letter March 15. “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.”

Students from several North Shore schools — including Ward Melville High School, Rocky Point High School and Northport High School — participated in the national walkout inspired by the political activism stemming from a Feb. 14 shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people. Many of the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida spearheaded what became a national movement. Students in other districts — like Port Jefferson High School and Harborfields High School — participated in school-approved indoor memorials and remembrances which also included outlets for students to express their views on gun control legislation. Many school districts issued warnings prior to March 14 that participating students would face disciplinary action. Elia was publicly supportive of the walkouts prior to March 14.

Michelle Salz, the mother of a Rocky Point Middle School student, said she will be joining with a group of parents who have come together to fight the suspensions legally.

“I am infuriated that the school is not allowing my straight A honors student, who is the president of her student council and the president of the national junior honor society, to exercise her First Amendment right to free speech,” she said. “It is disgraceful that our school district is choosing to penalize our activist students instead of embracing this event as a teaching opportunity.”

Cuomo’s letter its entirety:

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

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting

by -
0 420

The two tribes have set their respective baselines while New Yorkers yearn for compromise and actual, tangible change.

The Republican-held state Senate has thus far made its position clear. Billed as the way to keep kids safe, its legislative school security package, which passed March 6, has several strong ideas and mercifully doesn’t get New York educators any closer to possessing firearms on school grounds. It establishes funds for districts that want to hire school resource officers, and opened the definition to include retired or active duty police
officers, deputy sheriffs and/or state troopers, who would be allowed to carry weapons on campuses. The package also provides state education aid to districts acquiring safety technology or otherwise improving
security of facilities. A bill to create more funding for schools to hire additional mental health professionals was also included.

On its face, the Republican package does plenty to improve safety in schools. A Suffolk County initiative announced by Executive Steve Bellone (D) last week would allow districts to give access to existing surveillance systems to the police department, designed to speed up response times during mass shooter situations. The package and the new county scheme are outside of the box and forward-thinking ideas that are welcome for making students safer. The Republican plan passed with bipartisan
support.

However, the only use of the word “gun” in a press release announcing the package from a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) is in reference to potential future legislation that would create funding for districts seeking more weapon detection systems. At the end of February, the state Senate voted down a package of measures introduced by the Democrats that aimed at addressing access to firearms.

That legislative bundle included stronger background checks, a ban on bump stocks and an “extreme risk protection” measure designed to keep weapons away from people who are determined by a court to pose a risk of harm to themselves or others. In other words, common-sense, bare minimum gun control measures that do nothing to infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. A similar package made it through the New York State Assembly the same day.

“I am not encouraged that we’re there yet,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said when asked if he thought the discussion about guns at the state level was progressing among both parties.

“Schools must be safe havens where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Flanagan said in a statement announcing the Republican bills. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

He and his fellow local senator from the Republican conference, Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), have yet to respond to a request for comment through respective spokespersons asking if either intend to support the Assembly package.

If the Republicans are serious about creating “peace of mind” for schools and parents, the school safety measures are an excellent start, but the Assembly package should be passed too.

A student-led movement calling for gun control legislation has reached Port Jefferson. Stock photo

The gun control debate in the United States has been fully underway seemingly for decades. Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 that left 17 people dead, the debate has taken on a different tone, and thanks to the activism of survivors, many of whom are high school students, the conversation hasn’t yet retreated to the back burner even a few news cycles removed from the shooting. In fact, the MSD students have ensured their cause will be garnering attention through at least April 20.

Two nationwide student walkouts have been planned and are being promoted on social media.

On March 14, the group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is calling for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to walk out of schools for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 Parkland victims,
beginning at 10 a.m. The purpose of the protest, according to a website promoting it, is to shine a light on Congress’ “inaction to do more than Tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.” The walkout is being promoted on social media using the hashtag #ENOUGH.

“We want students who choose to be involved to have a focus for their efforts so the day and time will be meaningful.”

— Paul Casciano

On April 20, a similar protest is being planned to coincide with the anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The organizers of this event, simply called National School Walkout, are also calling for those in school buildings to stand up and exit at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes of silence, followed by an “open mic” session in which students will be encouraged to voice opinions. The organizers of this walkout envision a day-long event concluding at the end of the school day.

“We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that,” the website created for the event says. “This issue needs constant attention if we hope to change anything, so multiple events on multiple days is a productive way to help fight for our cause, a safer country.”

Local school districts and students are addressing if or how the marches might play out here, with logistics and safety being of the utmost concern for administrators.

In Port Jefferson School District, administration is taking a hands-on approach in handling a potential protest. Superintendent Paul Casciano said the district’s principals are working with students and teachers to finalize plans.

“We want students who choose to be involved to have a focus for their efforts so the day and time will be meaningful,” he said. He added that when plans are established the district will make them public to ensure parents are informed about what might take place.

Ben Zaltsman, student body president at Port Jefferson High School, shared details about plans for protest, which will take on a tone meant to honor victims rather than a political message. He said initially students expressed a desire to walk out among themselves, but that administration found out and was concerned about safety hazards associated with leaving the building. Instead of a walkout, the district and student
government got together to formulate a plan to commemorate the day and participate in the national movement.

“Something like this is not disruptive. I don’t think it’s political.”

— Ben Zaltsman

Zaltsman, who’s heading to Rice University in the fall, said he and the rest of the high school’s student government met with administration and agreed on a 17-minute ceremony in the auditorium March 14.

“The April one seems like it’s more political — this is to honor and remember Parkland victims,” Zaltsman said of the two rallies. He said he’s not sure how many students might participate in the voluntary demonstration, which will take place during fourth period, but he expects it will be many. He also said it’s possible students will decide to walkout on their own anyway, but that he hadn’t heard of anyone planning to do so.

“My mom said she knew I was already participating and I have a younger brother who is expected to participate too,” Zaltsman said when asked if he’d discussed walking out with his parents. “Something like this is not disruptive. I don’t think it’s political.”

Comsewogue School District Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said in an email students were working on organizing a demonstration, though the district did not provide specifics in time for print.

Parents in the district have strong opinions on the idea of their kids participating in a political protest
during school hours in a discussion on a Facebook page comprised of Comsewogue community members.

“Instead of walking out and protesting, walk into the cafeteria and talk to kids you normally wouldn’t,” poster Caitlin Mae, a district employee, said while expressing skepticism that a walkout would accomplish much. “Befriend those who don’t have friends. Scold those students who encourage bullying.”

Jessica Glass, the mother of a junior at the high school, said she had discussed the possibility of walking out with her daughter.

“I would be proud of my kids if they had strong views and chose to express themselves in this way.”

— Rachel Begley

“She feels very strongly about reform and is interested in all the aspects of how to bring it about,” she said. “Is gun reform the answer? Is mental health awareness the answer? Is more teacher/parent awareness of students the answer? Is a walk out the best idea? She doesn’t have the answer, but she feels that students in a movement would bring awareness to an issue on a higher level than the awareness is now. That’s what’s important to her, raising awareness in many ways for change.”

Several others said they viewed students walking out of school at a set date and time as a security concern in and of itself.

“We are all worried about security, I don’t think a walkout is such a good idea,” Edward Garboski said. “By doing so we are allowing our kids to become perfect targets. I would hope our parents see the same thing I see. My kids will not walk out of school.”

Others applauded the idea of students being politically and civically engaged.

“I would be proud of my kids if they had strong views and chose to express themselves in this way,” Rachel Begley said. “They don’t have a vote, so this is one way of making themselves seen and heard.”

While the federal government deals with the political gridlock long associated with gun control, New York is working on action to at least improve safety in the short term, though not to address gun laws.

“Every New Yorker and every American is outraged by the senseless violence that is occurring in schools throughout the country,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement Feb. 28. The state Senate approved a series of bills March 5 that include more funding for security cameras, armed police officers or security personnel for districts that want it, panic buttons, active shooter drills, better emergency response plans, hardening of school doors and more. A package of gun control measures proposed by Senate Democrats was rejected.

Social

9,195FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,133FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe