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The Villages

The Rockland Arts Festival, A Racially Insensitive School Lunch and More Local Stories

This week in the Villages: We look at some local art, then dive into the controversy surrounding an ill-timed and racially insensitive middle school lunch. Plus, other local news, a weather prediction, a Covid update, upcoming meetings and much more. Thanks for being here!

Slideshow: Photos from the scene at the Rockland Arts Festival at the Palisades Mall on Sunday, Feb. 5. (Photos by Amanda Mauer)

School Lunch-gate?

Nyack, hailed as a statewide leader in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, once again finds itself at the center of a (nearly global) controversy around racism in its school system.

Last Wednesday, Nyack Middle School students were served an entree of chicken and waffles with a side of watermelon for lunch.

The fact that it was February 1, the first day of Black History Month, not to mention the offseason for watermelon, was not lost on students.

“They were asking people if they want watermelon and I remember being confused because it’s not in season,” Nyack Middle School student Honore Santiago told the local ABC affiliate. She later added, “Didn’t think the company was capable of making us feel bad … especially the kids my color.”

After school that day, several students, including Santiago, told their parents who immediately demanded answers and accountability, enlisting the local chapter of the NAACP for support.

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“The chick and waffles and watermelon is a stereotype to Black folks, African Americans,” Nyack NAACP President Nicole Hines told ABC, “because that’s what they think we like, or that’s what they think we eat all the time.”

The story was picked up by local, national and international publications — not to mention New York’s popular “The Breakfast Club” radio show (see video clip below) — and led to renewed criticism for Aramark, one of the world’s largest institutional food service providers.

Aramark, which boasts a long-list of accolades for its own diversity and inclusion efforts, has weathered similar racially insensitive storms in the past, including the serving of ribs, collard greens as well as Kool-aid and watermelon-flavored water at NYU during Black History Month in 2018, as reported by the NY Times. The university didn’t renew their contract with Aramark a year after the incident.

The company also came under fire for serving fried chicken and waffles on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the University of California at Irvine in 2011, according to The Guardian.

It’s still unclear exactly how the insensitive menu was implemented or who is directly responsible, but it is clear that somebody at Aramark, which employs numerous local residents, made the last-minute call without warning the middle school.

(Lohud’s Nancy Cutler gets into all the confusing details here, but interestingly, she notes that the local resident who previously managed food service for all of Nyack’s schools died unexpectedly in December after “suffering a medical episode at the high school.”)

James Montesano, Nyack’s acting (and former) schools superintendent, says the district is not considering terminating its contract with Aramark, at least not “at this juncture,” according to Lohud.

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There is a Nyack School Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, Feb. 7. While we have a copy of the original agenda, we’re wondering if this story will be added to the menu.

Stay tuned and be in touch (email us at info@nyacknewsandviews.com) …

In other relevant news:

  • A judge dismissed charges against Wayne Ballard, a former building department official in Spring Valley, in connection with a deadly fire at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults back in 2021. Even though cases still remain against two of the building’s operators, Lohud’s Steve Lieberman writes the victims’ family “fears no one will be held responsible for the deaths of her son Jared Lloyd, 35, and adult home resident Oliver Huested, 79.”
  • Check out our latest Nyack Schools Report with notes from the most recent January school Board meeting.
  • It has now been a month since Spring Valley native Jordan Taylor disappeared in Manhattan. We broke down all of the latest developments in last week’s Villages. Below, you can see the last known video footage of Taylor, which shows him walking around the financial district at 2:30 am on January 7.

Quotes of the week

“The offering of chicken and waffles as an entree with watermelon as a dessert on the first day of Black History Month was inexcusably insensitive and reflected a lack of understanding of our district’s vision to address racial bias,” said the Nyack principal, David JohnsonNyack Middle School Principal David Johnson

“Whose decision was that? Why? What made them think that this was OK?”Nyack NAACP President Nicole Hines about the decision to serve chicken and waffles with a side of watermelon on the first day of Black History Month

Video of the week: Aramark becomes The Breakfast Club’s “Donkey of the Day”

Breakfast Club host Charlamagne Tha God points out how both watermelon and fried chicken, both delicious foods in their own right, were turned into racist tropes to denigrate black people.

ICYM NNV’s weekly features: Bill Batson’s latest “Nyack Sketch Log”; Mike Hays’ most recent “Nyack People & Places”; and our coverage in last week’s “The Villages”; Jessica Goodman’s latest Nyack Schools Report. If you haven’t read it yet, please check our vision for the future of Nyack News & Views and how you can help build our coverage and capacity.

Weather prediction (through 2/12)

Our weird, warmish winter continues with temperatures roving between the high 30s to the mid 50s during the beginning of the week. Rain is expected on Thursday and into Friday. Then clear skies and temps in around the low 40s on Saturday and Sunday. [Click here for the National Weather Service‘s latest 7-day forecast for the Nyack area.]

Covid Update! (threat level: back down to a more manageable “Medium”)

According to CDC data of recent hospitalizations and cases, Rockland’s community threat level of Covid-19 is now considered “Medium” after spending 6 weeks over the holidays in the “high” range. With a medium designation, the CDC recommends getting tested if you have symptoms and wearing masks on public transportation.  (CDC stats updated 2/2/23)

Village updates

Nyack

  • Here’s the list of all upcoming meetings posted for the Village of Nyack.
  • If you could use help paying your water bills, click here.
  • Drop off humanitarian aid for victims of the war in Ukraine (including first aid, painkillers, blankets, baby food, diapers, non-perishable food, antibiotics and more, at Village Hall, 9 N. Broadway (or at the Orangetown town hall, 26 W. Orangeburg Rd.).

Upper Nyack

South Nyack

  • Due to reader request, we have re-added South Nyack, which dissolved as an official village earlier this year. Please send us info about what’s going on in South Nyack at info@nyacknewsandviews.com.

Orangetown

Clarkstown

  • The Technical Advisory Committee, which “evaluates the technical adequacy of land development applications and decides their readiness for Planning Board review,” meets most Wednesdays, including this Wednesday, from 10 am to noon, in the town hall’s Historic Map Room.
  • For a calendar list of all Clarkstown meetings and events, click here.

Other Local Updates

South Nyack advocates have filed a petition with the town of Orangetown seeking to show support for a new Elizabeth Place Playground — the grassy play area and dog park just south of 87 and right off the Esposito trail. After South Nyack dissolved in March, the town found the playground equipment at Elizabeth Place was unsafe and not compliant with ADA regulations and removed it. A new ADA compliant park has been proposed and advocates want to see the proposal approved and implemented. Click here to read and/or sign the petition.

Nyack Schools

Rockland-wide

A rare polio case was recently discovered in Rockland County. Here’s some info on how to protect yourself:

  • New Yorkers can pre-register for a free polio vaccination appointment here or call 845-238-1956 to schedule. Walk-ins will also be accepted.
  • Vaccines are also available through local healthcare providers, including Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • For more information on polio including symptoms and spread, visit NYSDOH’s page here.
  • New Yorkers can learn more about the polio vaccine available in the U.S. at CDC’s page here.
  • The Reviving Rockland Restaurants Grant Program will reimburse businesses between $5,000 and $25,000 for past expenses or fund future expenses for eligible outdoor dining COVID-19 mitigation equipment. Eligible entities include restaurants, food stands, food trucks, bars, saloons, lounges, taverns, bakeries, delis, cafes, breweries, wineries, and other similar places of business. For more information and to download an application visit rocklandgov.com.
  • Fill out this survey to help the county provide better digital services.

Connect with Nyack News and Views

Note to readers: We want to hear from you and welcome your input! What do you think we should be covering in your Rockland County village? Let us know at info@nyacknewsandviews.com. Send us story ideas, issues to investigate, letters, reviews, photos, videos, feedback and news tips. And read about our vision for delivering high-quality, hyper-local journalism and how you can help us fulfill our mission going forward.

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