Here are the 10 most read — and talked about — stories posted on The Village Green since we launched this summer.
By far the most buzzed about story was the arrest of a Columbia High School teacher. Nicole Dufault, 34, was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting five students on school property and in her car on multiple occasions.
The South Orange-Maplewood School District administration and the Board of Education both responded to the allegations. Acting Superintendent Jim Memoli and CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron released a statement assuring parents that district staff were fully cooperating with law enforcement agencies and that CHS administration was working to actively support students and staff impacted by the incident.
Board of Ed President Beth Daugherty called the charges “deeply disturbing” and said the board and administration were fully cooperating with the investigation.
At back to school night, Aaron gave a heartfelt and forceful speech in which she vowed not to let the issue overshadow the numerous accomplishments and achievements that take place daily at Columbia High School.
CHS students staged a peaceful walkout to protest the grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Roughly 100 students participated. Chants like “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “What do we want? Human rights! When do we want them? Now!” rang through the halls.
Principal Elizabeth Aaron addressed the Ferguson decision in a letter she read over the loudspeaker that day, calling the shooting “painful” and “shameful” for America. “…I will work with all of you, as a teacher, your principal, a citizen, and a scholar, to make America work better for you, all of my students,” she said, before she dedicated the morning’s Pledge of Allegiance to Brown.
Students later reacted to the decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner by holding a “die-in” on December 4 in the entrance hall of the school.
Oren Warter, a 44-year-old father of three from Livingston, was diagnosed with Acute Myologenous Leukemia (AML) in December and was in need of a perfect match bone marrow donor to survive. The community rallied, and Warter’s family held a donor recruitment drive at Temple Bnai Abraham on December 21st. More than 500 people were tested for matches, and $42,000 was raised for the “Warter Strong” cause.
Maplewood business owners Mary and Angelo Vayas appeared on the Dr. Oz show to discuss Angelo’s battle with a rare form of brain cancer. Although there is no cure for the disease, the Vayases are determined to fight the devastating diagnosis. The couple inspired Oz to launch the “Shine a Light” Challenge to bring awareness and funding to brain cancer.
Former SOMSD Director of Fine and Performing Arts Anthony Mazzocchi penned an op-ed that drew a huge response in the SOMA community. He wrote, “…it is clear to me that our schools are not a reflection of our community anymore. In short, we don’t value arts education in South Orange and Maplewood Schools.” Mazzocchi, who has lived in Maplewood for most of his life and attended “one of the greatest music conservatories in the world,” said he felt the need to stand up and speak out for arts education.
In sad news, The Laurel restaurant in Maplewood Village — which opened in May of 2012 and has been a popular and highly regarded addition to the food scene in town — shut its doors after the sudden passing of Dennis Dwyer, who was a founder of the restaurant and its chef. Dwyer was the father of owner Lauren Dwyer.
A code red lockdown was initiated at Columbia High School on November 10 after it was reported that a student brought brass knuckles to school. The student, a 17-year-old, was arrested. The following day, Maplewood Police arrested an 18-year-old former CHS student. Police said the incident stemmed from an argument among the man, the student and a group of other students.
Some students gave first-hand accounts of what took place during the hour and fifteen minute lockdown. Later, CHS Principal Aaron told The Village Green in an email, “I can say again with confidence that our staff acted swiftly and as trained, and they reported and we saw that students overwhelmingly did exactly what we needed them to do and have taught them to do during drills.”
An auction scheduled in early December for the Highland Place liquor license was cancelled at the last minute at the request of the shuttered restaurant’s owner.
“He asked for a postponement,” said Investigator Eddie Palmer of the New Jersey Division of Taxation. Palmer confirmed he was referring to Chris Farrow, the owner of Highland Place.
The license was seized from Farrow because of unpaid state taxes, according to the state website. The restaurant has been closed since the summer.
Zach Doubek had an incredibly challenging summer. The Maplewood Middle School student and athlete spent several weeks in the hospital — including 12 days on a ventilator — fighting for his life due to a MRSA infection in his leg.
After many surgeries and time in a rehabilitation facility, the 7th grader returned to school this past September and rejoined his Maplewood Recreation Department league basketball team — if only to practice and support his teammates. Though not physically ready to return to basketball, Zach had a goal to score two points. To make that dream come true, Coach Ed Starzynski and the West Caldwell/Caldwell coach agreed to allow Zach to score the first points of the first Saturday home game of the season for Maplewood.
As friends and family cheered him on, Zach reached his goal of scoring those two points.
Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca and Township Committeewoman India Larrier, both Democrats, ran separately for re-election to the Township Committee this year due to their conflicting views on marriage equality. To the surprise of many in the Maplewood community, Larrier issued a statement to The Village Green that she believes that God made marriage and “marriage is between a man and a woman — because, God made marriage and that’s what His word says about it.”
…and a few runners-up: