Board votes to wait until January to decide about ending marching band requirement
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — A move to end the mandate for Unionville High School music students to participate in marching band was put on hold until January by the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education Monday night, after scores of passionate pleas from current and former band members, as well as parents.
Although a small handful did speak in support of changing marching band from a co-curricular activity to an extra-curricular activity, the vast majority asked the board to consider other options, such as enforcing the mandate only on freshmen.
And while it appeared the change would have passed by a 4-3 margin, the board voted unanimously to table the issue, in part so that further study can be done as well as consideration of other options, such as the freshman-only mandate, as well as giving board members Frank Murphy and Jeff Hellrung, who could not attend Monday night’s meeting, a chance to weigh in.
Because of the holiday meeting schedule — the lone December meeting is the typically brief reorganization meeting — the matter will not likely be decided until January, but a failure to decide by then could mean another year of status quo, high school principal Paula Massanari said, as it would begin to impact the class scheduling process for the 2013-14 school year.
The board meeting’s normally 15-minute public comment portion of the meeting stretched for more than an hour, as parents and students paraded to the microphone to largely offer support for some sort of student mandate for band participation.
Ruthie Kranz-Carl, of Birmingham, the mother of a senior music student, Adam, suggested that the move would be an overreaction to what has largely been a minor issue.
“I’m worried that we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater, here,” she said, arguing for at least one year of required participation. “It does take that first year to get hooked.”
But Mark Stookey of Chadds Ford suggested that the demands of marching band keep many students — he cited Boy Scouts specifically — out of the high school’s music program. He identified himself as an assistant scoutmaster and said it is unfair to ask students to give up music studies in order to pursue other outside interests.
“The wrinkle here is if the child chooses to do scouting, he is excluded from the music program,” Stookey said. “These are kids who have spent 4 to 5 years playing, learning an instrument. They shouldn’t be forced to give that up.”
Meghan Pierson, a senior drum major for the band, noted that she has attained the rank of Gold Award as a Girl Scout — roughly equal to Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts. She said she hasn’t seen band participation as a barrier to being a scout or participating in any number of other activities.
“I know numerous Eagle Scouts in the band,” she said. She said in her experience, many Scouts who are also in the marching band are able to work together on scouting projects, and often find themselves with additional connections to the community because of their time in marching band.
Numerous students and parents asked the board to consider a compromise position: only requiring freshmen to participate.
“As students, we would like the board to consider a ‘one-year’ policy for a couple of years,” said Meghan Shea, a senior drum line captain from Birmingham, “as a transition, instead of a drastic change.”
When the board took up the subject later in the meeting, it appeared four members: Eileen Bushelow, Jeff Leiser, Keith Knauss and Holly Manzone supported removing the requirement, while Kathleen Do, Victor Dupuis and Gregg Lindner seemed to be willing to at least entertain a compromise.
Dupuis said he was concerned that the board as a whole had not had much time— only last week’s board workshop — to discuss the issue, although it had been discussed at length at the board Curriculum subcommittee. Another concern, he said, was that virtually all schools in the area continue to have a requirement — and he said it is his understanding that the one area school that doesn’t require it, is now considering making marching band a requirement.
Although Leiser, a former officer in the band’s booster organization, said he felt the requirement should be lifted. But since there appeared to be no harm to delaying the decision, he said it made sense to get more input and allow the missing board members to have their say.
When it became clear that the board was split — with two members absent — Superintendent of Schools John Sanville recommended that the board table the matter until January, and the board voted unanimously — although Knauss and Bushelow said they did so “reluctantly.”