Marching band requirement poised for elimination

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Unionville school board likely to adopt change making band a voluntary extra-curricular activity

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

The Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education is expected to approve a change Monday night that would no longer make participation in marching band part of the school’s academic music program.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — For music students at Unionville High School, marching band will likely no longer be a mandatory ritual of summer and fall, if as expected, the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education moves Monday to change the activity from co-curricular to extra-curricular.

Although students previously were given exemptions from participating in marching band if they were involved in athletics, had after-school jobs or other issues, those exemptions were done on a case-by-case basis by band director Scott Litzenberg. The revision to the policy would allow students and parents to decide for themselves whether they wish to participate.

After a fairly lengthy investigation and survey of parents, students, staff and others in the community, the district’s administration is recommending the change, which is expected to be formally approved at Monday night’s meeting.

According to Kenneth Batchelor, Assistant to the Superintendent, the survey found support for the change — even from students who were enthusiastic about marching band. Batchelor noted that some of those students thought allowing their fellow students  who did not want to be part of the band would improve morale and make it more fun for those who chose to participate.

In addition to allowing music students to not participate — something district officials say may encourage students to now study music who might have been worried about the time commitment to be in marching band — the decoupling would also make it easier for non-music students to join the band.

Litzenberg did note that is was likely that the change would result in a smaller total number of participants in marching band in the coming years.

The board is also expected to approve a number of new courses and an adjustment to others Monday night, including a new guitar class at levels I & II, and a merger of the introduction to piano and All About Music. The Tech Education department will also be offering Engineering I & II as well, starting in the next school year.

In other schools’ news, there was some spirited debate about the impact of new policies regarding advertising in school publications, such as programs for sporting events and various performances.

The new policy limits advertisements from seven categories, including religious groups, political organizations and candidates, those involved with gambling, alcohol sales, gun sales, and adult activity.

The new policy stopped long-time supporters of the school district from buying ads in various publications, including St. Michael’s Lutheran Church and Willowdale Chapel, which sought to buy “Best Wishes” sorts of ads in school programs.

Board member and Policy Committee chair Kathleen Do brought up the issue and asked her colleagues whether the time has come to reconsider the new policy, potentially to make it less restrictive.

“My hope is we might consider a revision to the policy,” Do said.

But there wasn’t clear agreement — seemingly, there was a 4-4 split (board member Frank Murphy did not attend Monday night’s board work session), leaving the will of the board somewhat unclear to the administration.

“I want to make sure that the administration has interpreted the police in lines with the wishes of the board,” Superintendent of Schools John Sanville said.

While some members suggested a loosening of the standard to allow some ads, others worried that it could open the district to litigation.

“I’m comfortable with it as it is,” board member Keith Knauss said.

“We have closed the door to a lot of community partners,” Do said, noting that even the YMCA would not be able to advertise under a strict interpretation, as the “C” stands for Christian.

There was no resolution of the issue Monday, and it is likely there will be more discussion next Monday night.

Finally, in one other news item, the Unionville Sports Council announced it would be donating $35,000 to the school district — the approximate cost of the new entryway for the football stadium. Administrators also moved to quell some reports in the community that the new entrance might cost as much as $125,000 — noting that a very early concept some years back might have called for a more extensive and expensive project — but that the project approved by the Board of Education last month is a more modest project and it will make the $35,000 budget. Sanville said about half the cost would be for a new concrete pad, with the rest for a new ticket booth.

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  1. Daniel Block says:

    I am aware of the latest issue to hit UHS. Apparently, tonight’s board meeting is likely to determine that marching band will likely no longer be a mandatory requirement for participation in the music program in general. I am also aware that there is one family in particular that is driving this, though there are references to having surveyed “many” families and students. Often, if you give students an option about doing less work, they’ll take it unless they tend to have a strong work ethic and also a passion for learning and an ability to see the global picture. I would wonder how those survey’s were conducted, how the questions were asked, what was the context in which the surveys were done, and indeed if there even were actual real surveys or if some hand picked selection of people’s opinions was collated and reported as a survey result. Mr. Litzenberg infused the music department with meaning and purpose from the time he started here. I know first hand the amount of energy and passion he puts into the marching band year in and year out because both of my sons, now graduates of UHS, were part of the music program, including marching band. Vacations in the summer were planned so as not to interfere with band camp. Some reading this may say, “that was your choice,” others may say “that’s ridiculous,” but we saw it as supporting our sons’ commitment to something and teaching them that commitments and responsibility are important in life. The parents pushing for the change need to be aware as well that Mr. Litzenberg also gives up 2 weeks of his summer to do this (and though they may counter he’s paid for that, it’s still a 2 week commitment). He expects the same level of commitment from his students and I fail to find anything wrong with that. Tying it to the curriculum and grades is fine with me as well – it’s simply how this works in our district. Instead of griping about it being “too much” and unfair for students, how about instead teaching them that things may not always seem fair but that’s a part of life? How about keeping in mind the broader picture too? All that work lead to an appearance at the Gator Bowl, for instance, several years ago. Our small UHS marching band won the entire competition and earned the right to perform for the crowd there. What a thrill that must have been to have been a part of that? Does that happen if the proposed changes go through? I doubt it. I’ve about had it with the sociocultural immaturity that is now being transmitted to another generation. More entitlement if you ask me. If the requirement is that marching band is mandatory, then learn to deal with it or find something else to do. My wife told me that one our daughter’s (9th grade, UHS) friends, who is by nature shy, is in the marching band and though she was initially hesitant about the commitment, she has already told her parents she is planning to continue and is enjoying it. I think that the mandatory requirement, contrary to what some might say, actually is a positive influence in students’ musical education and may actually even spur some students to pursue music. Furthermore, it provides the chance to be part of a team and to learn to work together with others for a common goal. Let’s not discount the importance of supporting our terrific football program. The music they play contributes greatly to home field advantage and helps get the crowd fired up. I know marching band was an integral part of the music education at UHS for both of my sons, both of who are pursuing music in college. I am sure there are countless others who would agree with me. Lastly, there was the insinuation that the mandatory requirement and experience borders on “child abuse.” That’s simply ridiculous. That’s an example of people wanting their way and simply throwing out a buzz phrase designed to elicit fear and disgust.

    Daniel Block
    Kennett Square, PA

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