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Latest News in Rockaway Township, NJ

N.J. district eliminates Columbus Day as a school holiday over objections of Italian American groups

Local Italian-American organizations urged the Toms River Regional school district this week to reverse a decision to eliminate Columbus Day as a school holiday, saying the move is an insult to their heritage.The district’s school calendar, approved over the summer, made Columbus Day a regular school day. Students in the Jersey Shore community, which has a large Italian-American population, have had the day off from school in the past.This year, teachers and school staff were already working Columbus Day for professional ...

Local Italian-American organizations urged the Toms River Regional school district this week to reverse a decision to eliminate Columbus Day as a school holiday, saying the move is an insult to their heritage.

The district’s school calendar, approved over the summer, made Columbus Day a regular school day. Students in the Jersey Shore community, which has a large Italian-American population, have had the day off from school in the past.

This year, teachers and school staff were already working Columbus Day for professional training and the district needed to add a student day to reach the required 180 days of school, Toms River Regional Superintendent Michael Citta in a statement.

“This just made sense to facilitate,” he said, noting the move will help allow students to graduate and finish school earlier.

“In no way was the move intended to remove the holiday from the district or community,” Citta continued. “As you know, most schools nationwide and statewide have school on Columbus Day, as Toms River has done in the past as well.”

Students will continue to have lessons and discussions about “Italian-American contributions” to the country, he added.

Mike Kenny, a district spokesman, also emphasized Toms River Regional “did not, in fact, cancel Columbus Day,” as some critics have called the move to eliminate the school holiday.

A few speakers at Wednesday’s school board meeting objected to the change. Andre’ DiMino, the president and communications director of the Italian American One Voice Coalition, called the decision an insult to the Italian-American community.

“What it tells the children that go to school, they had the day off last year and by eliminating the holiday, it’s telling Italian-American children that this is not a very important holiday any more,” he said. “That’s just not right.”

This year, Columbus Day falls on Monday, Oct. 10. It commemorates when Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, landed in what was then considered the “New World” in 1492. Columbus Day was unofficially celebrated before becoming a federal holiday in 1937.

“We think it’s really a disgrace that people are doing this to Columbus Day,” said DiMino, who lives in Woodcliff Lake and owns a home in Brick.

Michael Blandina, the chairman of the Ocean County Columbus Day Parade Committee, was optimistic the school district will add Columbus Day back to the school holiday calendar in the future. Eliminating it is discriminatory, he said.

“Everybody deserves their holiday. It’s not a matter of taking somebody’s holiday away, and that’s what they did here, they discriminated against the Italian-American community,” said Blandina, who lives in Brick and also spoke at the meeting.

Columbus Day, which falls on the second Monday of October each year, has become controversial in New Jersey and other states in recent years. Columbus has been criticized for his treatment of Native Americans, including the use of violence and slavery.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which commemorates the history and contributions of Native Americans, has become increasingly popular as a replacement for Columbus Day. It typically falls on the same day, and was issued a proclamation by President Joe Biden in 2021.

In New Jersey, Randolph replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the school calendar, then erased all holiday names from the calendar after this district was criticized for making the change. Randolph schools then reversed course again and added holiday names, including Columbus Day, back on its school calendar last year.

Rockaway also removed Columbus Day from its calendar and replaced it with Indigenous People’s Day, then reversed the decision last year.

Meanwhile, Jersey City debated making a change, then decided to keep the holiday. Officials said Columbus Day is ultimately more about celebrating the Italian culture than honoring the explorer.

Gov. Phil Murphy previously criticized the now-reversed decision to drop all holiday names from the school calendar in Randolph.

“These holidays exist as they do for a reason, and I’m on the side of keeping it the way it is,” Murphy said.

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Seventy-five acres preserved along Rockaway Creek in Tewksbury

A 75-acre wooded property along the Rockaway Creek that had been considered for both office and residential development since the 1980s has been permanently preserved.On Feb. 15, the nonprofit New Jersey Conservation Foundation purchased the property on the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 523 and Interstate 78 for $750,000.New Jersey Conservation immediately transferred the land to Hunterdon County, to be kept in its natural state to protect water resources, safeguard wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for...

A 75-acre wooded property along the Rockaway Creek that had been considered for both office and residential development since the 1980s has been permanently preserved.

On Feb. 15, the nonprofit New Jersey Conservation Foundation purchased the property on the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 523 and Interstate 78 for $750,000.

New Jersey Conservation immediately transferred the land to Hunterdon County, to be kept in its natural state to protect water resources, safeguard wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for passive recreation like hiking and bird watching. It is now part of the Hunterdon County Park System and is known as the Rockaway Creek Preserve.

Funding for the acquisition was provided by the New Jersey Highlands Council, with the New Jersey Green Acres Program and New Jersey Water Supply Authority contributing toward surveys, title work and closing costs.

“We’re thrilled to permanently protect this property along the Rockaway Creek,” said Jay Watson, co-executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “New Jersey Conservation Foundation has preserved land along the Rockaway Creek upstream of this property for the Hill & Dale Preserve, as well as farmland downstream. We’re grateful to our partners for making this acquisition possible.”

The newly-preserved property is bounded on the south and west by the Rockaway Creek, designated a “Category 1″ stream because it supports trout, which require clean, cool water. It also includes a pond with a small stream flowing into the Rockaway Creek.

“The New Jersey Highlands Council is very pleased to be a part of the preservation of this property,” said Lisa J. Plevin, executive director. “New Jersey Conservation Foundation did a tremendous job of working with the property owner and other partners to help ensure permanent protection of the abundant natural resources on this site, and future access for the public. We were very glad to bring federal Highlands Conservation Act (HCA) funds to this project.”

The Highlands Council leveraged HCA funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to secure a conservation easement on the property from New Jersey Conservation Foundation. The easement will help ensure permanent protection of the important natural resources on the site.

“Hunterdon County is proud of the work New Jersey Conservation Foundation has done to preserve this important property along the Rockaway Creek in Tewksbury Township,” said Zach Rich, deputy director of the Hunterdon County Board of Commissioners and the board’s liaison for planning and land use. “Being 75 forested acres and fronting on almost a half-mile of the Rockaway Creek, a C1 stream, seeing this land preserved thanks to the sourcing of grant dollars and funding by NJCF is a win for both environmental protection and Hunterdon County residents. Hunterdon County is grateful to include the new Rockaway Creek Preserve into the County Park System.”

Because the property will remain in its natural state, a need no longer exists for a sewage treatment plant that would have discharged into the Rockaway Creek farther downstream.

A private nonprofit based in Far Hills, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. In addition to protecting over 125,000 acres of open space, farmland and parks, New Jersey Conservation promotes strong land conservation policies at the local, county, state and federal levels, and provides support and technical assistance to hundreds of partner groups.

For more information about New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its programs and preserves, visit www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LANDSAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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N.J. board votes to restore ‘Columbus Day’ as name of holiday on school calendar

‘Columbus Day’ will be back on the Rockaway Township School District’s calendar next school year after the board previously had voted to change its name this year.When the Rockaway Board of Education voted earlier this year to adopt its school calendar, Columbus Day was replaced with Indigenous People’s Day, but some of the board members did not know the name had been changed, ...

‘Columbus Day’ will be back on the Rockaway Township School District’s calendar next school year after the board previously had voted to change its name this year.

When the Rockaway Board of Education voted earlier this year to adopt its school calendar, Columbus Day was replaced with Indigenous People’s Day, but some of the board members did not know the name had been changed, according to a report by Pix11.

A motion was put forward to restore Columbus Day to the calendar during the September board meeting, but the vote was tied with one board member absent, the report stated.

During Wednesday night’s meeting, all seven board members were in attendance and after one of them, Aaron Tomasini, made a motion to add it to the 2022-23 school calendar, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the motion. Tomasini originally voted against reinstating it at the September meeting.

Lisa Mezik, one of the board members who voted to approve the motion, said she did not know she was changing the name of Columbus Day on this year’s calendar when she originally voted to approve it.

“I certainly would not agree to take Columbus Day off our calendar,” Mezik said.

The only board members who voted against the motion were Rachael Brookes and Tanya Shields. Neither commented on their votes.

A few members of the public spoke before the board began its regular business, including Italian American One Voice Coalition Executive Board member Andre DiMino who said his group, which is an Italian American advocacy group, was very pleased about the 5-2 vote.

DiMino said Christopher Columbus is a “iconic symbol to Italian Americans” and that “as Americans there’s an attack on our history and heritage,” making it important to preserve the holiday with the name it was originally given.

“It is critically important because he united the continents and changed the world with his discovery of the New World,” he said.

The use of ‘Columbus Day’ has become controversial in New Jersey and elsewhere throughout the country in recent years. Columbus has been increasingly criticized for his treatment of Native Americans, who were already present when Columbus arrived and were eventually displaced. Some other towns and districts have instead opted to call the holiday ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day.’

Earlier this year, the Randolph Board of Education did an about-face on its decision to remove holiday names from the school calendar following tremendous backlash from the public.

Following the board’s action, all holidays were listed by name on the school calendar, including Columbus Day.

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N.J.’s 19th legal weed store launches in Montclair

EDITOR’S NOTE: ...

EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider is hosting a day-long conference and networking event Sept. 15 at the Crowne Plaza Princeton, featuring many of the state’s leading power players. Tickets are limited.

A steady stream of customers entered the Ascend Montclair dispensary on Saturday during its inaugural weekend offering adult recreational weed.

Among those who came to check things out was Michele DeZao, 60, of Rockaway, who was on her second visit to the dispensary since getting her medical marijuana card two months ago.

The recovering cancer patient on disability immediately noticed the bigger crowds on Saturday but appreciated how she was still treated as a priority with the medical patients-only check out line.

The hours of 8 a.m to 10 a.m. are reserved for medical patients only, with adult weed starting at 10 a.m., seven days a week at Ascend Montclair.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” said DeZao as she paid for vapes and edibles, which she said helps alleviate her stomach pains. “People are buying it (adult recreational weed) anyway so why not make it legal?”

The dispensary at 395 Bloomfield Avenue officially opened for adult weed sales at 10 a.m. Friday to become the 19th location in New Jersey to offer it after weeks of negotiations with the township.

“We are grateful for the support of the Montclair community and cannot wait to share the Ascend experience with the people of Montclair and the surrounding towns,” said Caitlin Fleishman, Director of Public Affairs and Communications for Ascend Wellness, the multi-state operator owner of the dispensary.

The Montclair Township Governing Body voted 5-1 last Tuesday to accept a pre-negotiated settlement agreement with Ascend to begin adult weed sales.

Township Counsilor-At-Large Peter Yacobellis said part of the settlement agreement included a “voluntary contribution” to various organizations by Ascend Montclair, using adult weed revenue.

“I want to laud Ascend for their incredible generosity to the citizens of Montclair and in particular for their contributions to the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation and Montclair Community Pre-K (program),” Yacobellis said in an email. “When I think about the harm that legacy marijuana laws have caused to low income communities and in particular, communities of color, I want to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure those communities are the ones benefiting from revenues generated by this new marketplace.”

The company’s other New Jersey store in Rochelle Park debuted adult recreational weed sales on April 21 with the statewide launch, and has quickly emerged as one of its top performing stores for adult weed in the U.S., according to Ascend’s owner and co-founder.

Ascend Fort Lee began selling medical marijuana on Aug. 12 and plans to expand to adult weed in the fall.

At Ascend Montclair, “it was a lot of organic traffic flow and a big outpouring of support,” Fleishman said late Saturday.

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At Pop’s Place, a free Thanksgiving meal keeps a legacy alive

When Erion Lenas was a child, he watched his uncle Spyros Lenas, known as Pop, serve free Thanksgiving meals every year at his restaurant, Pop’s Place.Pop passed away four years ago, but in April of last year, his nephew opened another restaurant with the same name in Morris County.The name is not the only way Lenas is paying tribute to his uncle. On Thursday, Lenas offered free meals to anyone who wants to come to the Rockaway Township restaurant and eat an official Thanksgiving dinner.“This community has be...

When Erion Lenas was a child, he watched his uncle Spyros Lenas, known as Pop, serve free Thanksgiving meals every year at his restaurant, Pop’s Place.

Pop passed away four years ago, but in April of last year, his nephew opened another restaurant with the same name in Morris County.

The name is not the only way Lenas is paying tribute to his uncle. On Thursday, Lenas offered free meals to anyone who wants to come to the Rockaway Township restaurant and eat an official Thanksgiving dinner.

“This community has been so good to us,” Lena told NJ Advance Media. “And the least we can do is pay them back with a free Thanksgiving meal.

“My uncle, Pop, did this every year, and we are just continuing his legacy.”

Lenas will never forget the memory of his uncle and how he fed the hungry and those who did not have family every Thanksgiving.

“Pop did a lot for this the community,” Lenas said. “He was self-made immigrant from Greece and did not have family around the holidays. That’s why he had a soft spot in his heart for those like him.”

This year’s Thanksgiving meal at Pop’s Place included all the fixings, according to the general manager at Pop’s Place, TJ Gray.

“We’re preparing around 300 meals,” Gray said before the festivities. “It will be the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and apple pie a la mode with vanilla ice cream.”

Pop’s place is known a round Dover and Rockaway for delicious food served quickly.

“Our customers love to pick their meal up and sit outside under the umbrellas,” Gray said. “Our food is simple, and hopefully, it will create a little nostalgia for when things were a little simple. We serve the food we grew up eating.”

Lenas will never forget his uncle and the lessons he learned from him.

“Pop taught me to stay humble and always do the right thing,” he said. “Simple to say but hard to do. We’re so humbled to serve free meals this Thanksgiving. It means a lot that people of this community spend their money with us, and we wanted to give back today.”

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