Guest speech at local high school turns controversial

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Parents, teachers and students in Ballston Spa are upset after things got ugly with a guest speaker during an assembly on Wednesday.

Students said they were disrespected, and the speaker was asked to leave.

The guest speaker was Nancy Jo Sales, a writer for Vanity Fair magazine and The New York Times. She was invited to Ballston Spa High School for a special assembly to talk to students about respect.

But during her speech, things took a turn for the worse.

Kristi Jensen has been the principal at the high school for 13 years.

“Obviously, it made me angry, but I was also hurt and upset,” she said.

Those in attendance said Sales’s speech showed anything but respect.

“Almost immediately she was rude to our students,” Jensen said.

Jensen said that at one point, a special needs student made a noise. Sales asked that student to leave, which angered others in attendance.

Jamie and Thomas are both seniors and were at the assembly.

“None of us knew what to do,” Jamie said.

“Some of the people there were very upset,” Thomas said. “Some of the students.”

As the assembly continued, tensions continued to rise.

“There were a couple of other points where she was just really rude and disrespectful to the kids,” Jensen said.

Eventually, the students began verbally standing up for themselves. One parent said she was happy with how her daughter handled it.

“I’m glad that my daughter stuck up for what she believed in,” she said. “To have somebody come and speak about it and then actually do it – that’s unacceptable.”

Sales was originally going to stay for another speech, but the school said it decided to cancel it. Sales said she made the decision to leave on her own.

She told NEWS10 ABC she wasn’t being disrespectful. She didn’t know the student was disabled and would have never asked the student to leave if she did.

Sales said she tried to apologize.

“I said, ‘I want to go to her right now and apologize. Can you take me to her?’” Sales said. “The assistant principal and the principal refused to let me do that. And I think because of mismanagement by the school and the administration that I was not able to deliver the message that I wanted to.”

Jensen said she’s proud of her students.

“If you see something and your gut tells you it’s wrong, stand up for other kids,” she said. “Stand up for other people, and that’s what happened here.”

Sales has been in the Capital Region before. She spoke in Troy in May.

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