‘Last Free Meal’ in­ci­dent of­fers food for thought about race and food

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - THE TIMES HERALD -

In the in­su­lated world of Al­len­town High School, Prin­ci­pal Con­stance DeNi­cola Em­b­ley used an es­cape hatch when asked about an al­leged in­ci­dent that tar­geted black stu­dents.

“I can­not com­ment on an­other stu­dent’s dis­ci­pline or ac­tions. It is ac­tu­ally il­le­gal for me to com­ment on what an­other stu­dent does,” DeNi­cola Em­b­ley, told on Mon­day.

Sounds like non­sense, es­pe­cially when the stu­dent body, par­ents and even out­siders should have an un­der­stand­ing about con­se­quences suf­fered when peo­ple vi­o­late school pol­icy. We de­serve the op­por­tu­nity to learn from mis­takes made by others.

The Al­len­town prin­ci­pal avoided speak­ing di­rectly about a post Don­ald Trump pres­i­den­tial elec­tion vic­tory so­cial me­dia en­try that showed black stu­dents queued for food.

An at­tached com­ment read “Last Free Meal.”

Ok, some stu­dent gets fed a plate piled with prej­u­dice and dis­tor­tions by his par­ents then un­leashes his learned be­hav­ior onto so­cial me­dia.

Prin­ci­pal DeNi­cola Em­b­ley de­liv­ered a typ­i­cal freak out re­sponse.

“I will not tol­er­ate any type of racial in­ci­dent at this high school,” she said. “This high school does not take any type of be­hav­ior like this lightly, and it is not tol­er­ated .... Any type of racial in­ci­dent would not be tol­er­ated here. It would be ap­palling to me.”

Prin­ci­pal DeNi­cola Em­b­ley could have opened the New Jer­sey Ed­u­ca­tional Play­book. (No, it does not ex­ist). Dr. Richard Fitz­patrick, su­per­in­ten­dent of the Up­per Free­hold Re­gional School District did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions, work­places, heck, ev­ery­body needs an im­me­di­ate and di­rect re­sponse that con­fronts prej­u­dice, bias, big­otry and racism.

DeNi­cola Em­b­ley should have im­ple­mented strate­gies that met head on this dis­rup­tive and prej­u­dice be­hav­ior.

This could have been an ‘ev­ery­body into the au­di­to­rium’ moment for a dis­cus­sion about prej­u­dice.

Mil­lions of U.S. peo­ple live in poverty, more than ever be­fore in a coun­try that trashes about half of all food pro­duced, bought and sold here.

Re­duced or free meals, es­pe­cially break­fast which jump starts ed­u­ca­tion, sounds rea­son­able.

In fact, many school dis­tricts pro­vide across the board free meals to avoid stigma­ti­za­tion of food needy stu­dents.

This Al­len­town High event in­cludes other is­sues worth iden­ti­fy­ing.

The Up­per Free­hold Re­gional School District vol­un­tar­ily par­tic­i­pates in New Jer­sey’s In­ter­dis­trict Pub­lic School Choice Pro­gram which al­lows en­roll­ment for a lim­ited num­ber of stu­dents who live out­side the district.

Many of the new stu­dents trans­fer from sig­nif­i­cantly black school class­rooms into pre­dom­i­nantly white schools.

School dis­tricts that adopt the Choice pro­gram and par­ents who in­fuse their chil­dren into these sit­u­a­tions should ex­pect grow­ing pains from both sides of the color di­vide.

Let’s play with statis­tics for one moment.

re­ported Al­len­town High School in the 2014-15 aca­demic year had 1,265 stu­dents en­rolled, with 83.5 per­cent be­ing white, 5.7 per­cent be­ing black, 4.8 per­cent be­ing His­panic and 3.8 per­cent be­ing Asian, ac­cord­ing to a New Jer­sey De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion school per­for­mance re­port.

This is a wild guess, but the 1,265 Al­len­town High School stu­dents be­long to the hu­man race.

Teach­ing mo­ments ar­rive in ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions that re­quire clos­ing books and open­ing eyes, minds and hearts.

Al­len­town stu­dents, teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors should work to­ward de­vel­op­ing one stu­dent body that cel­e­brates di­ver­sity and op­por­tu­ni­ties for grow­ing up.

Be­ing hu­man rep­re­sents a great chal­lenge but those who ar­rive at that won­der­ful stage in life dis­card race and other lim­i­ta­tions to em­brace hu­man­ity.


This im­age of black Al­len­town High School stu­dents stand­ing in a cafe­te­ria lunch line was posted on so­cial me­dia with the cap­tion “Last free meal” hours af­ter Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump de­clared vic­tory in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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