Parents protest silencing of 7th grade choirs

By Bill Felber

It was a doleful tune that seventh graders and their parents sang for USD 383 board members Wednesday night. In brief, there is no room for them in the middle school choir program.

Several students and parents told the board that rising demand among eighth graders for the limited number of choir slots had effectively frozen the seventh graders out when they received their class schedules last week.

Susan B. Anthony and Eisenhower Middle School share the services of a single choir teacher, each for three class periods a day. Anthony Principal Vickie Kline told the board Wednesday that because demand for the class at her school exceeded the available slots, she decided to give priority to the eighth graders, forcing numerous seventh graders to accept other class options.

The school received 190 applications for the vical music program this year—33 moore than a year ago—including 92 from seventh graders. There are only 90 slots in the three class sessions.

The situation did not sit well with the students or their parents. Although district officials made them no promises about any remedial action, Supt. Bob Shannon told them that “if there’s something we can do …it’s our responsibility to give it deeper thought.”

The issue appeared to catch district officials by surprise. During the last school year, board members presented with the choice of adding a second elementary choir teacher or an additional technical education teacher opted for the latter because they anticipated more need in that area. “What has changed?” board member Dave Colburn asked, noting that “I’ve been on the board for 10 years and we didn’t change anything.”

Judging from the comments of parents and students, the problem stemmed from the popularity of the middle school choir program and its shared teacher, Carlita Pederson, who has three sessions at Anthony and three at Eisenhower.

“We had more registrations and more kids staying (with the choir program),” Anthony Middle School Principal Vickie Kline reported. The school allowed students to sign up for electives such as choir for as few as one or as many as four quarters, and “we had too many seventh and eighth graders who put it as their four-quarters choice,” Kline said.

Shelly Williams, the mother of a seventh grader who was denied a seat in choir, said the program “gives kids a sense of belonging.” Pat Zink, a former choir student, told board members that choir is “for those who aren’t athletic … it provides a sense of family … where you can be yourself and be a part of something.”

Diane Bruce, whose daughter Allie was also denied a slot, said taking part in seventh grade choir was “all she’s talked about all summer,” a sentiment Allie reiterated.

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