Local leaders push to ease restrictions for music, arts extracurriculars in school

Arts

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. (WROC) — With the state now allowing county health departments to decide how high-risk sports resume, there’s a push to do the same with music and arts extracurriculars.

Sen. Pam Helming says she was inspired by how many people spoke up about sports and signed petitions – as a result Gov. Andrew Cuomo heard the voices and acted. Now, she’s asking for the same attention and consideration when it comes to things like choir, band, theater productions, and recitals.  

“I’m hearing from a number of parents and coaches, concerned about their children’s enthusiasm in the past about school sports and extracurricular’s. We start to see students slipping, disconnecting from social activities, social work slipping,” she said.

Helming started a petition on the movement, saying an ease of restrictions would help both teachers and students in social engagement, mental health and confidence. She also has written a bill, that specifically asks the state to allow a county’s commissioner of health and commissioner of education to work together on what regulations they see fit for their schools.

“And it’s those experiences you build upon that help you later in life with decisions, and also something important and real, kids need to be back to their activities because it helps them obtain scholarships. If they want to pursue higher education, often times this leads to scholarship opportunities,” she said.

Jamie Farr is superintendent for Canandaigua City School District. He agrees with Helming, and says the current state regulations should be reconsidered just like what happened with sports.

Farr says right now there are some regulations that make teaching and socialization hard for staff and students. One example – in high school bands and choir – students must stand twelve feet apart.

Farr says if he were to have a say, he would push that to 6 feet apart, a distance currently allowed only in orchestras. He would also consider a rapid testing model that would allow performances, musicals and recitals to come back for live performances. That would have a similar plan to sports activities – only a few spectators per student.

Farr has reached out to state representatives to inquire about using a rapid testing model for sports, but they declined.

Farr believes schools can ease these restrictions safely: “I’m not going to pretend to be a scientist, but based on the numbers we are seeing, based on the fact that the vaccine is out now, a large majority of staff has gotten their shot, following COVID numbers declining rapidly, we need to stay on that model, numbers are lower than Thanksgiving. Based on all this it’s my belief we can do this safely.”

Farr says his big ask is just the opportunity to try. “Districts have proven we have been able to open in a safe fashion so I hope we are given more leniency. If things don’t work and decline, we are positioned to shift immediately away,” he said.

As of Wednesday almost 2,000 people have signed Helming’s petition.

News 8 reached out to the NYS Department of Health for a response to the movement and is awaiting a response.

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