By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
'I will stand for you': Students hold make-up walkout
Albany eighth-grader Quill Lent holds a sign March 15 outside of Albany Schools in support of the nationwide protest against violence in schools and in support of 17 people killed by a school shooter Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida. Lent said she was not allowed to leave Wednesday as part of a nationwide walkout, which prompted her to organize a makeshift demonstration in a few hours with the help of her mother, Sharon Lent. (Times photos: Marissa Weiher)
ALBANY - The same day that area school districts were overseeing a peaceful walkout by students or moved by a memorial service for 17 lives lost in Parkland, Florida, a month ago, two Albany students found themselves dismayed to be faced with opposition from their principal.

Quill Lent, an eighth-grader in the School District of Albany, planned to walk out with her fellow classmates on Wednesday. Instead, Principal Connie Gregerson advised teachers to send students to the lobby for 17 minutes for safety reasons, announcing a moment of silence for the students killed a month ago.

"Yesterday my thinking was that if I got enough people to go out that we wouldn't all get suspended because they can't suspend a whole grade," Lent said. "My thinking was also that if I have to go out alone, I will because it's to show support."

Lent took part in the moment of silence announced by Gregerson but said when she went to the principal's office later to ask if the walkout was still going to happen, Lent was met with urging to take other action, like writing a letter to a representative or being kind to fellow students. Eventually, Lent said Gregerson noted that disrupting learning was what the "bad guys" did.

Gregerson said she told teachers to "encourage" students to gather in the lobby where she and the school

psychologist would be waiting if students wanted to discuss any issues. She added that the supervised area was safer than outside. After the moment of silence Gregerson said she felt the "students down in Florida deserved," she urged students to "think about others" in an announcement, specifying kindness and thinking about the effect of their actions.

While Quill's mother, Sharon Lent, said her son Ben and Quill had been discussing the walkout days earlier, Gregerson said no one approached her about any plans. She noted if they had, she and staff would have helped organize an event, like the candlelit ceremony held by the 17 students in the Juda High School senior class.

Gregerson said she doesn't recall mentioning police involvement, but Quill said she was worried about leaving the school for a protest when the principal warned that a walkout would mean truancy and the cops being called.

Instead, Quill and classmate Josie Sandlin were outside the school Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. They held signs expressing the need for change. By the school sign, beneath the blue paint displaying the name of the district, 15 pairs of shoes were placed on the ground. The footwear was given to the group by students in a show of solidarity to represent their presence even when they didn't have permission to leave school.

In an email to Sharon on Wednesday, Gregerson said she had also told Quill that if all of the students walked out in the same moment, it "might not be the best idea since a shooter could have an opportunity." Gregerson said Thursday that was not the reason she preferred students to gather in the lobby.

Sharon said she was disappointed in the school she loves and a principal she respects, because of the "fear response."

"Connie Gregerson's a great principal, she was a great teacher when she was a teacher, but in this case, that was not the way to go," Sharon said. "I support all of the suggestions, but when kids are driven to take action ... the high school kids, at least, planned their own entire walkout, and it got shut down. It was a fear response on both the kids, and the administration saying, 'well this is when they would shoot you.' And that's the whole point; they shouldn't be afraid."

Gregerson dismissed the idea of her reaction being fearful; she said Albany is a safe place and as an educator, she simply did not want to disrupt the learning process. She said the demonstration outside the school Thursday morning with Sharon nearby occurred without any issues.

Quill said she was glad to show her support for the nationwide effort to bring attention to the need for gun regulation and to support those in Florida, as well as her classmates.

"Even if I have to stand alone, I will," Quill said. "I will stand for you."