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With Mitigation Steps in Place, Give a Green Light to High School Performing Arts Programs

By Dr. Karissa Niehoff on March 17, 2021 nfhs news Print

In addition to the almost eight million participants in high school sports, more than four million students are involved in other education-based activities such as speech, debate, music and theatre.

And the importance of these programs is being highlighted this month with the celebration of Music in our Schools Month (MIOSM). Although this is an annual event each March, this year’s celebration is particularly special given our nation’s struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NFHS and the National Music Council collaborated on a special video to kick off MIOSM. The video featured several of America’s greatest artists thanking music teachers and letting them know the importance of their efforts in the lives of students – especially in times of crisis like the pandemic.

This video, featuring artists like Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Paul Shaffer and many others thanking music educators, has been viewed thousands of times and has drawn rave reviews. 

The support for music educators from these luminaries has been uplifting because, unfortunately, high school music programs – in many cases – have not proceeded as quickly to a return to activities from the pandemic as their counterparts on the athletics side.

And as many states and schools return to spring sports competition, we would urge that music activities – singing and instrumental programs that are on the calendar – be given equal consideration to return to regular in-person participation.

In cases where schools have returned to 100-percent in-person instruction, there is much research and data to support the allowance of playing instruments and singing in the classroom – with proper mitigation protocols in place.

The NFHS, the College Band Directors National Association and more than 125 performing arts organizations have been involved in an unprecedented aerosol study to determine mitigation strategies that would allow performing arts activities to continue during the pandemic.

Through three sets of results, the study has shown that if music participants wear masks, use bell covers for instruments, maintain social distancing, reduce rehearsal time and increase and/or improve ventilation, aerosol emission can be reduced by up to 90 percent.

Complete information from the three rounds of results of the NFHS aerosol story can be obtained here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/unprecedented-international-coalition-led-by-performing-arts-organizations-to-commission-covid-19-study/

Despite the findings from this study conducted by research teams at the University of Colorado and the University of Maryland, many music rooms remain dark and silent while classes are in session in other parts of the school building.    

Bob Morrison, director of Arts Ed New Jersey, which was one of the sponsoring organizations of the aerosol study, noted that the efforts to reinstate winter indoor sports, such as basketball and wrestling, amid the pandemic have been helpful to the performing arts cause.

In the March issue of the NFHS’ High School Today magazine, Morrison noted, “If (departments of health) are going to allow contact athletics like wrestling and basketball to go on – if 10 student-athletes can run up and down the court and bang into each other without masks, and that’s okay – then a quartet wearing masks and socially distancing should be able to play, too.”

We are in full agreement with that assessment. Music activities, along with speech, debate and theatre, should be given an equal opportunity to practice, perform and compete this spring in cases where schools are in session. While many states have conducted some of these activities successfully in a virtual setting, there is nothing to replace in-person participation – if proper mitigation protocols are followed.

We give a special shout-out to all educators in high school performing arts programs for their tireless efforts during the 2020-21 school year. Music, speech, debate and theatre programs provide invaluable lifelong learning experiences for millions of high school students every year. We encourage continual support for these vital education-based activities.

Read all NFHS Voice columns here.