RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – As school districts prepare for hybrid re-entry, one department says they’ve been left out. Fine arts programs like band and choir are still not allowed to meet in-person and some educators and students say it’s not fair. And while the pandemic hasn’t stopped the music in Rio Rancho’s schools, band and choir class is not the same.
“As [for] performing arts, it’s been very difficult to make up the difference in what’s lost and in-person,” said Joshua Dumais, assistant band director at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho. “Just here alone, we’re in different realities – offset by a few seconds and so to play music together, it’s incredibly difficult.”
Next week, schools across the state are preparing for hybrid re-entry plans and even sports. However, the state’s Public Education Department says in-person band and choir classes are strictly prohibited.
“They looked at COVID spread through aerosol and they came up with some mitigation techniques that really show that it can be done very safely,” said Neil Swapp, Executive Director of the New Mexico Music Educators Association, referring to studies done across the country. “I do think it’s interesting that we are allowing contact sports that don’t have those studies to happen, but our music students, six feet apart with masks both on their face and their bell, aren’t able to play.”
Educators within Rio Rancho’s school district and across the state say classes can still be done virtually. However, they say the classes can also be done safely, in-person.
“Across all fine arts it’s been challenging, but teachers have really risen to the occasion,” said Kurt Schmidt, Executive Director of Fine Arts for Rio Rancho Public Schools. “They’ve been incredibly creative because they’re creative, by nature.”
Raven Dickens is a junior and clarinet player at Cleveland High. She says there’s only so much you can do on your own. “Honestly, it’s been really hard,” said Dickens. “As a band, we all listen around for each other’s sound and we cooperate together so I think that’s what I miss the most.”
Teachers say if students can’t get that traditional experience, they’re worried they’ll miss out on big opportunities. This time of year, many are worried about money for college.
“They’re all vying for scholarships in college. We have a lot of students who want to pursue music later on and get degrees and teach and play,” said Dumais. “They’re vying for the same scholarships as students who are rehearsing in-person in other states right now.”
Educators say there’s also a risk of students deciding to leave the fine arts programs. They hope the PED will reconsider the plan.
“We have data,” said Swapp. “We have science, and we have some practical experience so we would love for them to relook at that information.”
NMPED Secretary Ryan Steward issued a statement to News 13 this evening saying:
“We are working closely with our public health partners to review data on the safety of various activities. We will continue to review the medical literature on activities, including band and choir, and make any adjustments to our limitations on those activities that are consistent with the science as necessary.”