Students and parents in local school districts were dealing on Thursday with the consequences of joining nationwide walkouts Wednesday, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for those disciplinary actions to cease.
A handful of students at Mohonasen High School and Draper Middle School were given detention after foregoing a school-sanctioned indoor event Wednesday to walk out of school and hold ceremonies outside to honor those killed in a Florida shooting last month.
Students in Canajoharie schools who joined a walkout there were given detention Thursday, according to the parents of disciplined students. The Canajoharie parents said they are concerned the students weren’t given a chance to explain their actions before they were disciplined.
“He’s supposed to serve his detention today — no notice to parents, no opportunity for him to address the charge,” said Jessica Daniels, the parent of a senior who walked out Wednesday. She said the district’s code of conduct states students should be given a chance to respond to behavioral write-ups. It also states any disciplinary action should take into account a student’s past discipline and whether other consequences would be more effective.
The governor’s statement came in an open letter to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, in which he called on her to stop schools from punishing students who walked out of schools — actions district officials have said constituted violations of codes of conduct.
“These (disciplinary) actions send a terrible message to New York’s children and are against constitutional free speech protections,” he wrote in the letter. “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 efforts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of students.”
The governor’s letter also appeared to cite a report from the Leader-Herald that Gloversville High School staff and local police blocked the school’s exit to prevent students from leaving. The governor wrote that any effort by schools to block exits is “an egregious safety violation” and is also unlawful. He called on the state Education Department to investigate the report.
Gloversville Superintendent Robert DeLilli did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gloversville High School Principal Richard Demallie told the Leader-Herald that students were not prevented from walking out.
Elia responded to the governor’s letter with her own public statement, saying she “stands with” the governor “in support of New York’s students who express themselves through free speech.” She said her office would investigate any reports “where the safety of students was put in jeopardy.”