Students from Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond walk out of school to protest gun violence. (Steve Helber/AP)

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), who took part in Wednesday’s national student protest gun violence, has asked the state’s education commissioner to investigate schools that punished students who left their classrooms to participate — and she said she would.

Meanwhile, more than 300 colleges have said they will not penalize any student who has been disciplined for participating in a protest, according to neveragaincollege.com. They include public and private colleges and universities across the country.

Students across the country walked out of schools for a 17-minute demonstration to mark the lives of the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as part of an effort to push lawmakers to pass gun-control measures and make schools safer. A rally in Washington next week is expected to draw as many as 500,000 people.

Some schools and districts made it easy for the young people to leave class and protest on Wednesday. Others didn’t. For example, one school in central Arkansas reportedly gave students who participated two punishment options, one being with a paddle. Three students chose the paddling, according to one of the mothers:

On Long Island some students were suspended or even prevented from leaving the school. This annoyed Cuomo. He had supported protesting students in Manhattan by joining them, lying down on the sidewalk with them and chanting, “Gun control now.” On Thursday, he sent a letter to Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia asking her to investigate reports that some schools on Long Island blocked exits so students could not leave and others had suspended students for joining. The letter said in part:

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.

Elia responded with her own open letter that said in part:

I have discussed with school district superintendents, board members, teachers and others the importance of learning from this tragedy by engaging our students in an important civics lesson on the power of their own voices. We will investigate any reports where the safety of students was put in jeopardy, as we always do.

This is Cuomo’s letter:

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 walkouts 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 walkout 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

Some Long Island students were initially told they would be suspended for participating, but at least one district thought again and “downgraded” the discipline. This is a note that Lindenhurst Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Giordano posted on Facebook on Wednesday:

An Important Message From the Superintendent of Schools

Earlier today, March 14, Lindenhurst High School conducted a number of activities in recognition of the victims of the Parkland, Florida tragedy. As detailed in an earlier letter to parents, the events were established with the input and cooperation of high school student leaders. Activities included a moment of silence at 10 a.m., a brief reading on mindfulness, a classroom discussion and a poster that students could sign in support of students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Plans also called for a brief memorial to be held in the school’s courtyard for interested students. Unfortunately, due to the inclement weather yesterday, we were not able to allow students to gather in the courtyard. Instead, students were invited to exit their classrooms and link arms in solidarity in the hallway during the moment of silence before returning to the classroom to hold discussions for the remainder of the outlined seventeen minutes.

In a letter to parents, the district communicated that these activities were planned with the safety and security of our students in mind; therefore, a school walkout outside of the school building was not condoned. It was also communicated that the district’s Code of Conduct would be enforced.

Any Lindenhurst High School students who chose to walkout of school this morning, did so peacefully and respectfully; however, they were in violation of the Code of Conduct. The district must remain consistent — regardless of a student’s intent or cause — in enforcing the Code.

Initially, it was determined that the students would each face the outlined consequence for disruption to the school day, as the walkout required the redeployment of security throughout the building and complicated the teachers’ abilities to manage classroom attendance ensuring student safety. However, this decision has been reevaluated based on a series of factors including a review of the students’ records, the peaceful nature of their protest and the fact that the poor weather conditions required a last minute deviation from the outlined plan with limited time to effectively communicate those changes. As such, the administration has downgraded the disciplinary action to reflect a less severe offense.

While we respect the students’ desires to make their voices heard, our paramount priority is always student safety. Our Code of Conduct outlines the rules we believe will aid in our mission to keep students safe, and as such, they must be adhered to.