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Students could be ‘Red Flagged’ by teachers, coaches under Cuomo gun bill

Response to School Gun Violence

June 7, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Joining Governor Cuomo at Tuesday’s announcement was Aalayah Eastmond, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who survived a mass shooting earlier this year.  Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

Teachers, guidance counselors and even part-time coaches would have the power to petition judges to remove guns from the homes of students exhibiting threatening behavior, under legislation announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday.

The bill would make New York the first state in the nation to allow school personnel to “red flag” troubled or potentially violent students in hopes of preventing school shootings.

Cuomo’s legislation is based on twin bills introduced by two Brooklyn officials — Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and Sen. Brian Kavanagh — along with state Sen. Brad Hoylman (Manhattan). Their “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” (ERPO) bill would allow the use of protective orders to temporarily disarm individuals deemed to be a harm to themselves or to others. The Assembly version passed, but state Republicans blocked the bill in the Senate earlier this year, and could block it again. 

Under the original legislation, family members and police officers would be empowered to pursue court intervention to remove guns from troubled people. The governor’s bill would add educators to the list.

Our Red Flag Bill would also allow a teacher or a principle, school official, superintendent to also petition a judge and say, we have a person in the school — we believe they’re dangerous, we believe they may be in possession of a fire arm, and ask a judge to intervene,” Cuomo said at a press conference.

Kavanagh called the addition of educators to the list a “friendly amendment” to his bill and an “important step forward in our efforts to enact this reform in New York and stop preventable gun violence.”

Cuomo blamed the NRA and President Donald Trump for immobilizing Washington on gun legislation.

“The president has said the answer is to give teachers guns. To me, that is a bizarre concept,” Cuomo said. “Teachers are not there to carry firearms and engage in shootouts in a school setting with hundreds of students in the venue.”

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Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, and Michael Mulgrew, head of the city United Federation of Teachers, backed the proposal. Weingarten said that teachers told her the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, showed signs he was a “troubled soul.”

Nikolas Cruz, the teenager arrested and charged in the Parkland shooting, had numerous run-ins with police, left threatening comments on social media and had a history of self-harm and violence.

Joining Cuomo at the announcement was Aalayah Eastmond, a Parkland student who survived the mass shooting.

Gray Area Concerning Student Threats

The governor said that due process would be protected because a judge would make the determination, not the teacher.

Educators would be required to provide hard evidence that a student made threats or was otherwise dangerous. That may not be as easy as it sounds, however.

According to “Bullying and Harassment” by Kathleen Conn, a legal guide for educators published by ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, a nonprofit with more than 143,000 educator members), there’s a legal gray area when it comes to students making threats.

“The legal standards for deciding what constitutes a true threat are confusing and contradictory,” she writes.

A student “who uses what appears to be threatening language simply may be exercising a First Amendment right to express an opinion, a right protected from governmental interference or suppression,” she said.

Muddying the waters further, judicial standards in many states are different, and courts sometimes use an amalgam of standards in deciding whether a threat can be considered serious.

The Brooklyn Eagle has reached out to the NRA for comment.

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