Parents worry about ‘separate’ roller rink event that included some schools, not others

GRANDVILLE — A roller rink in Grandville is facing backlash after hosting a homecoming dance that some parents say is racist.

“We’ll be hosting a multi-school dance party with DJ and PA system, laser light show and photo ops, help us spread the word!” the Tarry Hall Roller Skating Rink event read on social media, according to screenshots sent to WOOD TV-8.

“This exclusive event welcomes all current high school seniors with a valid ID from the following schools,” the event reads, followed by a list of 11 area high schools.

They included: Allendale High School, Byron Center High School, Grandville Calvin Christian High School, Grandville High School, Hudsonville Freshman Building and Hudsonville High School, Jenison High School, South Christian High School, Tri-Unity Christian School, Unity Christian High School, Wayland High School and Zeeland East and West High Schools.

Viewers and social media users who reached out to WOOD pointed out that the schools invited to Saturday’s event were all predominantly white, while more diverse schools were excluded.

“It’s very clear which schools were invited and it seems like it was mostly race-oriented,” said Abby Cuevas, who has two students at Wyoming public schools and a recent graduate from Wyoming High School. “I’m not one to draw the race card, but…it couldn’t have been clearer.”

In a Facebook post after the event, the rink said the limited number of schools listed was due to capacity restrictions – and said schools were selected based on past support, not demographics .

“Due to capacity restrictions, inviting all surrounding schools is simply not possible,” the company wrote. “We have invited local schools who have supported our rink by booking school events and parties since we saved the Tarry Hall Roller rink in January 2021.

“We are a private company that hosted a private event for our own high school students, their friends, and area schools who have continued to support our rink during these difficult times. School demographics were not factored into the equation on which schools to invite.

But the Wyoming public schools superintendent, who runs his high school just four miles down the road, called out the rink for not inviting his students.

In a statement to WOOD, Superintendent Craig Hoekstra said his district “has a long history of supporting and spending valuable resources at Tarry Hall Roller Rink.”

“We have been hosting school skate nights and 21 team events at the facility for many years,” he wrote. “When our scholarship recipients requested, in advance, to participate in (the homecoming event), they were refused. I have contacted Tarry Hall Roller Rink and am awaiting a return call to better understand why our community has not been included in this event but has been accepted in the past when we have hosted private events.

“Their reluctance to provide clarification and engage in conversation is very disappointing and the perspective of the situation is divisive in relation to bringing together young people from different parts of the community.”

Hoekstra pointed to other various local high schools that were not invited, including East Kentwood Public Schools, Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville and Grand Rapids.

Terry Hall Roller Rink in Grandville found itself in hot water over the weekend, after inviting 11 predominantly white high schools to a homecoming event, but excluding more diverse schools.

“Guest schools lack diversity and some are located farther from Tarry Hall Roller Rink than the schools listed above,” he wrote.

Wyoming High School’s student population is approximately 28% white and 72% non-white, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The invited schools averaged 85% white and 15% non-white:

Allendale High School: 82% white, 18% non-whiteByron Center High School: 82% white, 18% non-whiteGrandville Calvin Christian High School: 95% white, 5% non-whiteGrandville High School: 73 % white, 27% non-white -whiteHudsonville Freshman Building and Hudsonville High School: 88% white, 12% non-whiteJenison High School: 82% white, 18% non-whiteSouth Christian High School: 95% white, 5% nonwhiteTri-Unity Christian School: 87% white, 13% nonwhiteUnity Christian High School: 95% white, 5% nonwhiteWayland High School: 87% white, 13% nonwhite non-white Zeeland East High School and Zeeland West High School: 88% white, 12% non-white

Parents of Wyoming public school students have expressed concern about the event.

“My junior, she’s like, ‘This feels like a separate event to me. What year are we living in?’” Abby Cuevas said.

Erin Albanese’s daughter is a student at Wyoming High School. She went to the event at the rink after the Wyoming Homecoming Ball, which also took place on Saturday, as a guest of another student.

As she searched for more information, she said she also noticed “how these were all predominantly white schools.”

“It was very concerning for me,” Albanese said. “I really value diversity and inclusion. That’s why I’m sending my kids to a diverse school district. … It was about capacity, and I don’t really understand what the problem would be, because you can simply sell a certain number of tickets and then cap it.

Megan Vitale, who has two children in public schools in Wyoming, said she understood why people were worried, but wanted more information from the rink explaining her side of the story.

“I can see where they would consider it a racist thing, but I don’t think we have enough information either,” she said. “I also see how it could be considered offensive.”

She echoed Albanese’s suggestion, saying the rink could have had a first-come, first-served policy and limited the number of tickets available.

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Tarry Hall has changed ownership since January 2021 approximately.

“We are grateful to our community for their continued support of our family business so that we can continue to host these private events as well as our normal public skating sessions,” the company wrote on Facebook.

“Those first two years of buying and owning a leisure business in a post-pandemic world have been a huge gamble for us. We are so grateful to everyone who comes to skate, dance and support us in our passion to provide a fun and safe environment for both our children, our families and yours, hopefully for years to come.

The property did not respond to WOOD’s interview requests.

— Target 8 investigator Susan Samples contributed to this report.

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