by David Neves
We are overjoyed that state leaders have worked with the RI Interscholastic League to find safe ways for our students to continue playing sports this year. By following the science, and creating guidelines and regulations that substantially mitigate any possible COVID-19 infection, they have brought this critically important activity back for thousands of students. We applaud this step.
Now, it’s time to bring back music.
Today, thousands of students, families and educators are frustrated and perplexed that state leaders have not paid the same attention to our schools’ bands, choruses and other music groups. These are equally important and vital for the education and well-being of thousands of students. Last year, before the pandemic, almost 25,000 students in our schools were singing and playing instruments throughout the state every week. This year, based on surveys of music teachers in almost every single school district, that total is only a little over 7,700-a staggering 70% reduction that reflects a stunning failure by our state’s leaders.
If students can play sports, and adults can dine out safely, we can use the same science and mitigation to bring enrichment and equity to students of music. These strategies include mask wearing, distancing, and using large spaces. Unfortunately, RIDE’s guidelines specific to music performance (now a year old) were created with no consultation with the experts around music performance: not music teachers, not the Rhode Island Music Education Association (RIMEA) and not the National Association for Music Education (NAFME). Just as with athletics, there are now scientifically proven ways to mitigate, and even practically eliminate risk which should be pursued. Nationwide, and even in a number of communities in Rhode Island, bands, choruses, orchestras and other music performing ensembles are taking place, using proven mitigation practices with no reports of students becoming infected as a result.
Restoring music performance and the other arts is vital, as they are the academic subjects that people, and children in particular, are turning to in order to ease stress, find comfort, and express feelings during this challenging time.
RIMEA has repeatedly sought to engage state leaders to address the concerns of students and parents over the past year. Their silent indifference was, and is, disheartening.
Teachers and school administrators should be provided with comprehensive guidance for safe music education and performance, based on the latest research.
It’s time for RIDE, RIDOH, and the Governor’s Office to commit to equal education for all students. We ask that they do the same for our students’ music education as they did for our student athletes.
Like sports, music performance is not merely an “enhancement”. For all students, and especially for those 25,000 students who were playing and singing in schools last year, their bands, choruses, and other music groups were often the most important, meaningful parts of their school days, often providing a path to the future via scholarships and academic opportunities.
Please join RIMEA in asking that RIDE, RIDOH and the Governor’s Office to make a good faith effort to adjust their guidance to specifically allow for bands, choruses and other school performance groups to be allowed to safely meet and make music again.
It’s safe, it’s fair – and we owe it to our students.
David Neves was the 2002 RI Teacher of the Year, the Supervisor of Music for 29 years in Scituate, RI, and the Director of Fine & Performing Arts in Needham, MA for 12 years. He is currently the Music Director of the RI Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensembles, Coordinator and Professor of Music Education at The University of Rhode Island, and Advocacy Chair for the Rhode Island Music Education Association.