“We have been disrespected. Our children can feel it too, the disrespect. Every time they see the emphasis put on sports returning in our schools. Every time they see a game happening. Every time there is an indoor hockey practice down the road from our school. Every time they see the volleyball team practicing indoors across the hall from the music department. We talk about it every week in class. They ask me: why can't the 11 of us practice in our theater that holds over 600 people? I don't have an answer for them anymore. They have been disrespected by the very people who are supposed to be looking out for them,” said Harwood chorus teacher Stefanie Weigand in a letter to the Vermont Agency of Education.
Weigand was appalled at the hypocrisy of the state’s COVID-19 music education guidance, which does not allow students to sing or play instruments together inside for even 30 minutes with masks on, while two-hour indoor sports practices continue with state endorsement.
“What has been difficult these past two weeks is that winter sports guidelines have come out and they say we can have practice indoors, but we can’t have a class, a curricular class, that students take for credit to graduate, for 30 minutes,” said Weigand.
As a member of NAFME, the National Association for Music Education, Weigand is intimately aware of the national Coronavirus guidelines regarding music education in the states, which allow students to sing and play instruments together inside, under certain conditions. The NAFME guidance, based on a host of scientific studies on aerosols, allow students to sing and play instruments indoors for 30 minutes at a time while socially distancing with masks in a room with proper ventilation.
To play instruments safely, NAFME guidance requires that students mask both their faces and their instruments. “You wear a mask with a slit, and you put a piece of fabric over the bell of your instrument, where the sound comes out,” Weigand explained. “At the start of school, we had a craft day in band where everyone got fabric and made instrument masks.”
It seemed that the NAFME guidance would be the norm in the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) until the Vermont Agency of Education released knew guidance in October that entirely prohibited students from singing and playing instruments together inside. Moreover, the guidance seemed to be written without care, Weigand said.
“The updated guidance that came out in October was confusing and weird and had a lot of incorrect phrases and spelling errors,” said Weigand. ‘It was sold to the music and education community as being this big help to us. And we were like no, it’s not helpful at all. It’s insulting.”
To make matters worse, no members of the arts community have been involved in the writing of Vermont music education guidance, said Weigand. “No arts people have been involved. There are no arts people despite the fact that Vermont has a huge arts community. We have been asking for a seat at the table since the spring.”
In the meantime, Weigand and other music educators in the district have been rewriting music curriculum. “Our curriculum has had to be rewritten for kindergarten through 12th grade across the district,” she said.
OUTSIDE IN COLD AND RAIN
Since students can’t sing and play together during music class anymore, they spend class learning composing or music history. As for band and chorus, students are still practicing outside. “We are singing and playing outside. We sing outside in the cold and the rain,” said Weigand.
On Wednesdays, when all students work from home, band and chorus classes happen over Zoom. “In my honors choir, we rehearse remotely on Zoom. We record everyone individually singing, then I play the piano with the recording so you can hear everybody’s voices. But when we all sing together, we have to be muted,” said Weigand.
When the weather gets even colder, if the state guidance remains, Weigand still plans to take her chorus class outside once and a while. “We’ll get snow gear on and go outside and sing when it’s cold,” she said. “We’ll forge ahead. We’re going to make music, learn about music and become better musicians no matter what.”