Parents concerned over ‘segregated’ roller rink event that included some schools, not others
GRANDVILLE — A roller rink in Grandville is facing backlash after it hosted a homecoming dance that some parents are describing as racist.
“We’ll be hosting a multi-school dance party complete with DJ and sound system, laser light show and photo opportunities, help us spread the word!” the event from Tarry Hall Roller Skating Rink read on social media, according to screenshots sent to WOOD TV-8.
“This exclusive event is welcoming all current high school students with a valid student ID from the following schools,” the event read, 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 contacted WOOD pointed out schools invited to the Saturday event were all predominantly white, while more diverse schools were discluded.
“It’s very clear what schools were invited and it seems like it was mainly directed toward race,” said Abby Cuevas, who has two students at Wyoming Public Schools and a recent Wyoming High School graduate. “I am not one to pull the race card, but … it couldn’t have been more clear.”
In a Facebook post after the event, the skating rink said the limited number of schools listed was due to capacity restrictions — and said the schools were selected based on past support, not demographics.
“Due to capacity restrictions, inviting every surrounding school is simply not possible,” the business wrote. “We invited the local schools who have supported our rink through booking events and school parties since we saved Tarry Hall Roller Rink in January of 2021.
“We are a privately owned business who put on a private event for our own high school kids, their friends, and the area schools who have continued to support our rink through these challenging times. School demographics were not entered into the equation on which schools to invite.”
But the superintendent of Wyoming Public Schools, which holds its high school just four miles down the road, called the roller rink out 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 hosted school skating parties and Team 21 events at the facility for many years,” he wrote. “When our scholars asked, in advance, to participate in the (homecoming event), they were denied. I have reached out to Tarry Hall Roller Rink and am awaiting a return call to better understand why our community was not included in this event but has been accepted in the past when we have hosted private events.
“Their unwillingness to provide clarity and engage in a conversation is highly disappointing and the optics of the situation are divisive versus bringing youth from different areas across the community together.”
Hoekstra pointed out other diverse local high schools that weren’t invited, including East Kentwood, Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville and Grand Rapids Public Schools.
“The schools invited lack diversity and some are located further from Tarry Hall Roller Rink than the schools listed above,” he wrote.
The student population of Wyoming High School is about 28 percent white and 72 percent non-white, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The invited schools averaged 85 percent white and 15 percent non-white:
Allendale High School: 82 percent white, 18 percent non-whiteByron Center High School: 82 percent white, 18 percent non-whiteGrandville Calvin Christian High School: 95 percent white, 5 percent non-whiteGrandville High School: 73 percent white, 27 percent non-whiteHudsonville Freshman Building and Hudsonville High School: 88 percent white, 12 percent non-whiteJenison High School: 82 percent white, 18 percent non-whiteSouth Christian High School: 95 percent white, 5 percent non-whiteTri-Unity Christian School: 87 percent white, 13 percent non-whiteUnity Christian High School: 95 percent white, 5 percent non-whiteWayland High School: 87 percent white, 13 percent non-whiteZeeland East High School and Zeeland West High School: 88 percent white, 12 percent non-white
Parents of students at Wyoming Public Schools expressed concerns about the event.
“My junior, she’s like, ‘This sounds like a segregated 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 Wyoming’s homecoming dance, which also took place on Saturday, as the guest of another student.
As she was looking up more information, she said she also noticed “how these were all predominantly-white schools.”
“It was very concerning to me,” Albanese said. “I value diversity and inclusion very much. It’s why I send my kids to a diverse school district. … It was about capacity, which I don’t really understand what the issue there would be because you can just sell a certain number of tickets and then cap it.”
Megan Vitale, who has two children at Wyoming Public Schools, said she understands why people are concerned, but wants more information from the roller rink explaining its side of the story.
“I can see where they would consider it a racist thing, but also I don’t think we have enough information,” she said. “I also see how it could be taken as offensive.”
She echoed Albanese’s suggestion, saying the roller rink could’ve had a first-come, first-serve policy and limited the amount of available tickets.
Tarry Hall has been under new ownership since around January 2021.
“We’re thankful to our community for their ongoing support of our family-owned and operated business so we can continue to host these private events as well as our normal public skating sessions,” the business wrote on Facebook.
“These first two years of purchasing and owning a recreation business in a post-pandemic world was a huge gamble for us. We are very grateful to everyone who comes to skate, dance, and support us in our passion to provide a fun and safe environment for both our own kids, families, and yours, hopefully for years to come.”
Ownership did not respond to WOOD’s requests for an interview.
— Target 8 investigator Susan Samples contributed to this report.