PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When the Rhode Island Interscholastic League announced earlier this month that some winter sports games could resume, some student-musicians were left wondering, “When is it our turn?”
Now the Rhode Island Music Education Association (RIMEA) is renewing calls to state leaders to consider allowing student musicians to have in-person practices and performances.
For budding musicians like Zachary Fulford, a 17-year-old trumpet player at Warwick’s Toll Gate High School, the COVID-19 restrictions being placed on band and chorus practice don’t make sense when stacked up against those currently in place for sports.
“I feel like as a musician with both band and chorus, it’s kind of unfair that we’re being left out of this when closer contact sports like basketball are still being integrated in school,” he said.
The impact of the restrictions on music education are stark, according to David Neves, the advocacy chair for RIMEA.
“In the spring there were over 25,000 students in our schools singing and playing instruments every week,” Neves told 12 News. “This year unfortunately that is down to about 7,000. That’s a 70% reduction.”
He said it doesn’t have to be that way.
“You know it’s time to give that same attention to our musicians,” he said. “For our student musicians, this is their sport for many of them, and this is their connection with school.”
The state’s guidelines for band and chorus practices and performances haven’t changed since June, when the Department of Education released a guide to reopening schools in the fall of 2020.
“It is recommended that activities such as chorus and any group band rehearsal or performance be suspended or occur virtually,” the guide reads. “If schools choose for them to happen in-person, students and staff should be at least 14 feet apart, and the chorus size should not be greater than the stable group size for high schools where students are not in stable groups. It is recommended to establish student groups that are consistent with class or bus groups whenever possible.”
While Neves said some school districts are allowing in-person practices, others are not, leading to inequities. He said updated guidance from the state would help ensure that all students have access to the music education they seek.
Neves believes it’s possible to have students safely practice closer together than the current requirement of 14-feet if they wear masks and take breaks. The R.I. Department of Health said it has received RIMEA’s communications and is reviewing their requests.