High school marching bands in Visalia in jeopardy due to COVID restrictions

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VISALIA, Calif. (KGPE) – High school marching bands face an uncertain future in the Visalia Unified School District, according to staff, students and parents. Multiple band directors in VUSD say this is because the district issued new Covid-19 guidance to teachers on Friday, which included unexpected Covid-19 restrictions on marching band and performing arts.

The El Diamante High School marching band has just come off a two-week band camp preparing for this upcoming season. Band director Kristen Pallas says this is a huge blow to the program if they can’t practice their routines. Pallas says one restriction on marching bands includes not allowing brass and woodwind instruments to participate in marching drills because of the risk of spreading Covid-19 when blowing into horns. Pallas says not allowing the full band to participate in practice could hinder competition.

“We’ve already invested tens of thousands of dollars in getting a show written,” Pallas said. “The kids just spent two 40 hour weeks working on stuff already.”

From distancing requirements to restrictions on certain instruments, band students are not sure what to do next.

“It was kind of surprising since we’ve had two weeks of band camp and that sense of normalcy,” said Asiane Watson, an El Diamante junior. “And then it’s just kind of like, you can’t do it anymore.”

A spokesperson for Visalia Unified says this is an issue of a lack of guidance from public health agencies. VUSD public information officer, Kim Batty, says it is frustrating that school is starting and the district has not received the guidance needed.

“As of Friday, Visalia Unified School District still had not received the updated guidance from the county on music, theater, or youth sports,” Batty said in a written statement. “A few weeks ago, we were told it would be soon.”

Batty says if marching bands are going to practice formations tighter than six feet, then they can’t play because the instruments spray saliva.

“While they (students) are playing their instruments, they must be physically distanced by six feet,” Batty said. “Choir and brass/woodwind band instruments project saliva several feet.”

Batty also said that indoor sports in VUSD have twice a week Covid testing and no spectators at this time. She added outdoor sports have protocols in place but are less restrictive than indoor sports.

For parents of students in the district, they say they want their children to be able to experience a fall semester like the rest of their peers.

“We’re seeing all these sports come back and they have a little bit of that piece of normalcy we’ve all been yearning for,” said Asya Guerro, a mother of an El Diamante senior in marching band. “And then our kids aren’t going to get to have that.”

Colby Wells is a father of a Redwood High School Marching Band senior. He says if there are less restrictions on outdoor sports, the same should apply to marching band programs.

“This boils down to equity,” Wells said. “If you have the rest of the students being able to do their activities unencumbered outside, why band?”

Parents, students, and staff say they hope the VUSD Board will take up this issue at the next board meeting and modify the Covid-19 policies for marching band and performing arts.

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