Board likely to drop band mandate

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Board of Education appears poised to change marching band to extra-curricular activity

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

The Unionville High School Marching Band, seen here in action at Disney World in 2012, will likely no longer be mandatory for the school’s music students, after a vote next Tuesday.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education appears poised to end mandatory participation in marching band for concert and jazz band students at Unionville High School at next Tuesday’s formal board meeting.

Based on conversations during Monday night work session of the board, it appeared that there might only be two votes out of nine in favor of even having a transition period of one year or keeping the mandate for freshmen, as band members and band parents suggested last November, when the board agreed to table the matter for further consideration.

But upon further discussion, the same issues that had board members and administration considering the change, the increasing time commitments from marching band competitions and worries that music students were being kept from studying music at the school were enough to have board members ready to make the change.

According to Ken Batchelor, Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools, as marching band practice rarely happened during school hours and currently requires two nights a week of 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. practice, plus typically, Friday night football games, a Saturday afternoon (noon to 4 p.m.) run through before a Saturday evening band competition, students and parents have become increasingly wary of the time needed to participate.

“It’s a big time commitment,” Bachelor said.

The issue of marching band participation has been among the more discussed topics, board members said, in terms of calls and emails from parents and students. And, they said, opinion in the community appears to be almost evenly split as to the best course forward.

“I’ve been getting equal amounts of letters on the upcoupling,” Board president Eileen Bushelow said. “It’s been 50-50 in favor and against.”

And while the administration did consider the compromise of only mandating participation for freshmen, Batchelor said that the passionate arguments made in November could apply to any number of current extra-curricular activities at the school.

“We certainly considered the argument that students won’t know what they’re missing,” Batchelor said. “But you could make that argument for so many things.”

He said the preference of the administration would be to keep the mandate for all students, rather than just freshmen for a year, were the board inclined to have a transition period.

“This isn’t a sword for anyone to die on,” he said. “But we felt it was better to make the cleaner cut.”

“There are times you have to say ‘no’ to great things,” Superintendent of Schools Sanville said, suggesting that students and parents have to weigh the value of participation versus the time needed to do so.

“This is a family decision,” Bushelow said. “We have to empower our children to make good decisions.”

The impact on the future of the school’s marching band is unclear, although Patton Middle School principal Tim Hoffman and Unionville High School principal Paula Masanari pledged to work with band director Scott Litzenberg to promote band participation with students to assist in keeping band numbers up.

But, according to Peter Shea, President of the Band Boosters Association, numbers have already been a concern before the end of the mandate.

He said although some 160 people made the 2012 trip to Disney World, only 52 were playing musicians from the matching band. The band was shorthanded enough to need students to switch instruments and in one case, an exchange student merely carried an instrument and did not play. Shea said that  he estimated five or six students could be lost to the band, making the number crunch even worse.

“Are we a thriving organization?” Shea asked. “Not as much as we’d like. We’re going to be short a few kids.”

Potentially, he said, that could mean that the band drops a level in competition.

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