Decision almost derails school band's trip

Parents come to rescue after education officials withdraw sponsorship

June 22, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

No one at Mount View Middle School thought the band's scheduled trip to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania would be a big deal. After all, the group had gone for five years straight to compete in the "Music Festival In the Parks" event that draws school bands from across the region.

But two weeks before the Marriottsville school's band was scheduled to go, it and other middle schools got some bad news: The Howard County school system would not sponsor the trip as it had in the past, leaving the band with no liability coverage. That meant the band would have to stay at home or figure out some other way to insure itself for the trip.

"It's always been fairly routine," said parent Al DeRemigis, whose son David plays the trumpet in the band. "This thing is planned all the way back in the fall. It was such a huge disappointment."

The bigger issue is confusion about the school system's policy regarding such trips, especially involving middle school pupils. Barbara King, the music instructional facilitator for the school system, said the policy has been interpreted different ways over the years, and officials are trying to clarify it.

A small group of school officials, including King and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, have met to discuss the policy and how best to define it. Hickey has indicated that he will have an answer by the beginning of school in the fall, King said.

King noted that high school bands have been approved for similar activities for years.

"The confusion definitely regards middle schools," King said. "The policy is definitely being revisited with the hope that the `Music In the Parks' will once again become a school-sponsored activity. We're studying this from every angle to determine how to best deal with the liability."

Trips to theme parks are normally not recognized as field trips because "we don't see any direct link to our curriculum," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. However, an exception may need to be made for band-related events, officials say.

"That doesn't mean that the actual experience for the band students isn't a valuable one" just because it's held at a theme park, Caplan said. "That's part of the discussion we're having."

For their part, parents and band members at Mount View Middle launched an elaborate plan to keep the band in the competition.

DeRemigis organized a 71-pupil car pool to Hershey Park on May 22, complete with checkpoints and parents linked by cellular phone. Because she would no longer have her professional liability coverage for a nonsponsored event, band director Shelly Williams had to be invited to attend as a guest conductor.

"I needed to be removed from the trip," she said. "They invited me to be the conductor, and that's all I did. I drove up, I conducted, and I left. I could not be associated with the trip in any way."

In true Murphy's Law fashion, one child discovered that her clarinet was locked inside the school when the car pool met at Mount View Middle to leave. Another clarinet player lended her an instrument.

Two parents got lost on the way, but the car pool located them and regrouped. When it became apparent that the band wouldn't make it to Hershey Park in time to compete in its original slot, another school agreed to switch places.

Mount View took home a first-place trophy, earning some of the highest scores in the school's history. The band also took home the Judge's Choice award, given to bands deemed exceptional in their category.

"The kids played their hearts out," DeRemigis said. "Then we went to the park and had a great time afterward."

Williams said such events are important because they allow pupils to compete against bands from other states, not just in Howard County.

Parents at Mount View have formed a boosters club, which is in the process of incorporating, De- Remigis said. He said the organization will sponsor the trip next year if it has to, although parents would rather see the school system do so.

"I don't know if it's because they are younger, but I really think it's kind of not fair," said Kathy Churns, whose daughter Tami plays flute and piccolo in the band. "It would be a shame to discourage these children. I see so much talent there."

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