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Florida School Shooting Impacts NY Politics

The school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month is having an effect on New York politics.

A few days after the February 14th shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a "State for Gun Safety" initiative. The Democrat told reporters at Marist College February 22nd that New York laws are far ahead of federal laws.  "I would love to say I think the federal government is really gonna get its act together now after Florida. My problem is, I know better. I was sure something was going to happen after Sandy Hook. The only that happened is that New York took action."

A month after the shooting, students across the country took part in the #NationalSchoolWalkout — a show of solidarity demanding stricter gun laws.

Some districts restricted students from participating. Others, including Mohanesan High in Schenectady and Canajoharie High in Montgomery County, meted out detention to walkers.

Cuomo folowed up by dashing off a letter Thursday to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia , calling on her to stop school officials from taking disciplinary action against students who joined in.

Canajoharie Central Superintendent Deborah Grimshaw replied to a request for comment by email, which says "The Canajoharie Central School District’s staff and students worked together in recent weeks to plan a way for students to safely memorialize and show their support for the victims of the tragedy at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Students came up with the idea to assemble in the cafeteria for 17 minutes on March 14 so they could honor the victims and discuss safety and their feelings. Administrators shared these plans with parents prior to the event, arranged for counseling staff to be in the cafeteria during the discussion, and invited teachers who were available to join them so we could support our students in making safe choices. Because of safety and security concerns, the students are not authorized to leave the school building. Any students who chose to leave the school are subject to the consequences that are outlined in the district’s Code of Conduct. Parents who have questions about the code are encouraged to contact their child’s school building principal."

Two more events in the planning stages — March for Our Lives on March 24 and another National Student Walkout on April 20.

School are also grappling with a spike in threats.

This week in Saratoga County armed police are patrolling Shenendehowa High School. Shen Public Information Officer Kelly DeFeciani says a threat was discovered Friday afternoon.    "A student reported to a teacher that a message was written on a bathroom stall wall that said 'shoot up school 3/19/18 2:35.' We called the police immediately and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s department and New York State Police both came to the school; they're working collaboratively to investigate, they're still investigating. In light of the message being specific to today, we have increased police presence on campus."

A Siena poll released Monday shows New Yorkers support the state SAFE Act and banning assault weapon sales nationally. Two-thirds oppose arming teachers. Pollster Steve Greenberg:   "When it comes to banning the sale of assault weapons across the United States, overwhelming support among New Yorkers. 65 percent support it, 32 percent oppose it. Even among gun owners, evenly divided. 49 percent of gun owners support a ban on the sale of assault weapons. 48 percent oppose it. And when asked whether teachers should be licensed to be able to carry concealed firearms in school, New Yorkers say 'no how, no way.' 69 percent oppose, 28 percent of New Yorkers support that."

New York State United Teachers union spokesman Carl Korn:   “We can’t think of a worse idea than arming teachers. Schools need to be safe, nurturing places for teaching and for learning, places where students and teachers and community members feel like there’s an environment that’s protective and all-embracing."

Back at Shen, DeFeciani says students have events planned for April 20th including an assembly at the football field.    "Students are gonna set up all kinds of booths to show students how they can advocate for anything. Things like voter registration, who your elected officials are, how you contact elected officials, that kind of thing. They're going to create a human message and photograph it with a drone, and then there's gonna be, after that, an after school town hall meeting, sponsored by the student senate."

DeFeciani says invitations will be extended to national, state and local officials including the school superintendent and board of education. 

Korn says there are things schools should be doing to improve safety and security:   “Adding school counselors and social workers and school psychologist. Making sure that doors have locks and buzzer systems and cameras. These are things that communities should be looking at.”

A group of student activists from Parkland, Florida appeared Sunday on “60 Minutes” to talk about the #NeverAgain movement they've spearheaded. The teens have raised more than $3 million to combat gun violence in the weeks since the mass shooting killed 17.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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