Middle school served 'inexcusably insensitive' lunch during Black History Month, vendor apologizes
NYACK, N.Y. — On the first day of Black History Month, the planned hot lunch menu for students at a New York middle school was changed by the district's food vendor, without notice, and kids were offered chicken and waffles, with watermelon as the dessert.
Nyack Middle School's principal explained the "unfortunate situation" in a letter to parents the following day, saying the "inexcusably insensitive" change was made by Aramark, unbeknownst to the administration. The school's planned meal on Feb. 1 was a Philly cheese steak, broccoli and fresh fruit, according to the menu posted on the school's website.
"We are extremely disappointed by this regrettable situation and apologize to the entire Nyack community for the cultural insensitivity displayed by our food service provider," Nyack Middle School Principal David Johnson said. "I am disappointed that Aramark would serve items that differed from the published monthly menu. Especially items that reinforce negative stereotypes concerning the African-American Community."
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'This was a mistake'
Aramark on Thursday night issued an apology, acknowledging the timing of the meal was inappropriate and it "should have been more thoughtful in its service."
"This was a mistake and does not represent the values of our company, and we are committed to doing better in the future," the Aramark statement, issued through the school district, stated.
Johnson, in the note to middle school families, said that he hoped "this unfortunate situation can act as a learning opportunity for Aramark to be more mindful when making decisions that impact our students."
Nyack schools interim Superintendent James Montesano said that the district was "extremely disappointed with what has occurred." But, he added, "we are encouraged to receive the appropriate response from Aramark in taking corrective action, which includes demonstrating their willingness to participate in training that the district will provide."
"We anticipate this will assist Aramark in aligning to the values of excellence through equity our district strives to uphold," Montesano said.
Parents express disappointment
Nyack school district has been considered a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion issues, something several parents pointed to in expressing disappointment that the incident occurred in the first place.
Lindsay Siegel of Upper Nyack, whose son is a sixth-grader at Nyack Middle School, called Aramark's menu choices on Feb. 1 offensive.
"I'm surprised it wasn’t caught," she said, noting the district's equity work. "It’s really disappointing."
Aramark's statement said it would partner with the district "so employees who work in the schools participate in training that aligns to the Nyack School District’s vision and commitment to equity-driven work. We believe this will provide a good learning opportunity to deepen understanding on the impact of systemic biases and negative stereotypes concerning the African-American Community."
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Past Aramark controversies
Aramark, a large institutional food vendor, had been involved in a similar flap before.
In 2018, NYU students at one dining hall were served ribs, collard greens and Kool-Aid during Black History Month. The university changed food vendors a year later.
In 2011, a Martin Luther King Day menu at the University of California, Irvine, read: “MLK Holiday Special: Chicken and Waffles.” Aramark was the vendor.
Follow Nancy Cutler on Twitter: @nancyrockland.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Lunch served in Black History Month at NY school called 'insensitive'