Upwards of 75 people gathered on a sunny Friday afternoon in front of the Greater Albany Public Schools office on Seventh Avenue to protest in support of police before marching to the Linn County Courthouse.
Albany police were asked to leave Albany public school campuses after some students and parents reported feeling anxious and afraid because of their presence. Uniformed officers were present for celebrations on the first day of in-person school — a tradition in Albany.
Some parents and students were upset that police were asked to leave campuses during the celebrations and responded by organizing Friday's demonstration.
The crowd, which included several families with children, ebbed and flowed between as few as 30 and as many as 75 attendees. The event began a little before 3 p.m. and ended shortly before 6, after participants marched several blocks to the courthouse and briefly gathered at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ellsworth Street. Passers-by periodically honked in support and were met with cheers from the crowd.
The protest, which included calls for the resignation or removal of GAPS Superintendent Melissa Goff, was the latest development in a situation that ramped up over the course of the week. The social media rumor mill spun out of control with claims of police being banned outright from Albany schools and accusations that the district was responsible for school resource officers not being present on campuses this year — neither of which turned out to be the case.
Goff and Albany Police Chief Marcia Harnden released separate statements on Wednesday citing the social media outrage as a motivating factor for addressing the controversy.
Goff said the decision to ask police to stop greeting returning students was made in an effort to ensure all students and families felt comfortable going to school.
“As a result, we are making only one, but an important, substantive change: we are now actively listening to all those experiences and perspectives and considering them in decision-making for this future event,” Goff said in her statement. “Viewed through this lens, the picture becomes much clearer. Some students are certainly happy to have a sticker and a virtual high five. For some of our kids, the badge is a barrier that makes them uncomfortable walking through our doors.”
Harnden’s statement apologized to people who felt the experience was negative, specifically mentioning “students and families of color.”
“We were saddened and disappointed when the GAPS superintendent asked us to leave the campuses on Monday,” Harnden said in the statement. “I need to clarify that I did not jointly decide for police to leave but honored the request of (Superintendent) Goff to leave and stopped our participation in the event.”
Harnden and Goff also separately addressed the rumor that the school district was responsible for a lack of school resource officers, clarifying that personnel and budget issues at a city level were actually the cause.
K. Rambo can be contacted at 541-812-6091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter via @k_rambo_.