HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Students from all grade levels at Huntsville High School gathered in the school's courtyard this afternoon to protest the way the administration has handled the death of Nigel Shelby.
"We're not just going to let this go and sweep it under the rug like it never happened," said Huntsville High School freshman Libby Malone.
According to two students who participated in the peaceful demonstration, students were reprimanded and told to go into the building or risk being sent home for the day.
A 12th-grade student said she was told she may not be able to walk at graduation for participating.
Malone, a friend of Nigel's said she just wanted to spread positivity in his honor.
"Nigel was probably the bestest friend anyone could have. He was always there for everybody when they needed someone to talk to. And he always stood up for you even if you were in the wrong," explained Malone. "He was always just there for his friends and was always goofy, laughing joking around and everything."
She said she knew her classmate struggled with mental illness.
"Sometimes you could tell and some days you couldn't," added Malone. "He would mask it as much as he could. But some days he just couldn't take it."
Huntsville City Schools says they incorporated additional counselors into the school, Malone said she hadn't come in contact with any of them during the school day.
"We're coming to school to learn, and during power hour where we have no classes, nothing curricular going on at all," she added. "We wanted to do something for our friend that was beneficial hopefully, and they tried to stop it."
Malone said she just misses her friend and wanted to shed light on the loss because she knew he'd do the same for her. "I would say that I love him, and I'm sorry I couldn't be there for him."
One mother, Sharon Smith, said the school system should be more delicate with the grieving students. "I want them to know that this is a tragedy for these children. They should be able to express themselves whether that's at the schoolhouse, the church house or a public building, at the capitol, or however they want to express themselves."
Smith went on to say that the students should feel like they can confide in administrators.
Smith's daughter, as well as Libby Malone, said they do not feel like their concerns are ever handled seriously.
School administrators said they did not have a problem with the demonstration but when power hour was over, they expected students to end it and return to class.
Huntsville City Schools said the ninth grade principal has been in daily contact with Nigel Shelby's family since his death.
In a statement to WHNT News 19, Huntsville City Schools said students will not face any consequences for their participation in the walk-out.
Read the full statement below:
Today during power hour, a few dozen students gathered in the campus courtyard around the flagpole to talk and express themselves over the recent passing of Huntsville High Freshman, Nigel Shelby. School staff were there to ensure student safety and toprovide support as students work through their feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration. No students were punished for participating in this gathering around the flagpole. Counselors and other district staff will continue to be on campus to help students and school staff as they work through this terrible loss. Our goal is to promote student learning in an environment that empowers students to think about difficult issues and to make connections between others and themselves in an atmosphere of respect and empathy.
Keith Ward, Huntsville City Schools