clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

New York state education chief on gun violence protests: ‘We ought to be supportive of students’

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visited the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx in 2015.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visited the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx in 2015.
Monica Disare

Students across New York State are poised to walk out of their schools Wednesday morning to protest gun violence, and New York’s top education official — a former social studies teacher — wants them to know she’s a fan of their activism.

Speaking to reporters in Albany on Monday, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia signaled that she would support any kind of informed activism by students. “Involvement in government as a citizen is extremely important,” she said. “It is a basic value that we should be working [toward] and supporting.”

It’s unclear how many of New York’s 950 districts could experience walkouts on Wednesday, when students across the country are planning to leave their schools to protest the laws that allowed a Parkland, Florida teenager to buy the gun he used to kill 17 people at his former high school last month.

But many local officials, expecting widespread participation, have been grappling with how to handle the protests since they were first announced. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed the walkout weeks ago, and the city education department also issued guidance meant to ease student participation in the 17-minute protest.

Elia, who oversees schools across the ideologically diverse state, has walked a finer line. She has not put out any formal guidance about the protests, and her department has emphasized that it’s up to districts to decide how to handle students who walk out.

On Monday, she emphasized that activism is ideally part of a meaningful education.

“It’s really important for us to make sure that … students do the research, understand the issue and then, that they take the time to share their concerns and or support for any particular issue,” Elia said. “I think we’ve seen that with the Parkland students and the concerns that they are at this point verbalizing, and we ought to be supportive of students doing that kind of civic work.”

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.