The Superintendent of New Hartford Central School didn't hold any punches on Thursday when explaining how a student's racist spoof ad for cereal made its way into an art show at the district last weekend.

The artwork in question is a fictitious cereal called "Monkey Premium Cereal" which promises a person can jump like NBA superstar LeBron James, if they eat the cereal. At the center of the controversy is the fact that the ad compares monkeys to James who is African American, which has long been used as a racist comparison to dehumanize black people. Somehow, the art assignment which dates back to the fall, was approved to be shown in the community-wide art show on Saturday in the school gymnasium.

"One adult is responsible for this oversight," said Dr. Cosimo Tangorra. "But the bigger issue in my opinion, is what are we going to do, about changing the culture so these things don't happen."

Tangorra said he had formed an equity-diversity committee to work on making improvements at the district, and since this story has made headlines around the world, he's been contacted by at least 3 former students who shared their stories of being harassed while going to school at New Hartford, including being called the "N" word. He added that one of the areas he's been working on since taking the job at New Hartford was fixing these areas that hadn't been addressed, and also working to hire more minority teachers in the district. However he said until New Hartford as a school and as a district deals with the culture that currently exists - it will be difficult to keep and attract minority teachers and staff.

When talking about racism at New Hartford and other schools in the region, Tangora says there are people who say, 'that wasn't my experience' at school in the Mohawk Valley. "But, If one person, is meant to feel unsafe. If one person is meant to feel other-than, if one person, one family doesn't feel they're part of the community...we have work to do. And that sometimes makes people who only had a good experience feel a bit threatened after," he added.

Bill Keeler / TSM
Bill Keeler / TSM

During Tangorra's investigation into the incident, he feels the student is the innocent one in the whole matter. He said the teacher, the one adult who could have stopped this, should have caught it immediately and should have directed the student to go in a different direction. Tangora also said the teacher will be dealt with accordingly, but in a previous statement in a news release, said it would be a teachable moment for him.

Tangorra stressed the fact that this is a community issue, not just a school problem. He admitted it was alarming that after the artwork hung throughout the day at the school art show, he only received a complaint from one person from the community, and then later on Sunday from ma WIBX reporter.

Tangorra added that the school already is working on diversity and equity with a program through Utica University, but this incident certainly begs for more action, and probably more help with experts in the field from outside New Hartford.



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