COVID Restrictions Loosened On School Music Programs

A socially distanced music class at Danville High School on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Front row, from left are Caleigh Larrabee, Kate Voganschneider and Riley Lyon. Middle row, from left are Timothy Searls, Jordan Herrin, Madisyn Lamont and Morgan Stuart. Back row, from left are Liza Morse, Zoe Crocker and Ava Marshia. (Photo Courtesy of Emily Wiggett)

The State of Vermont has just loosened the COVID-19 restrictions on school music programs.

And the new guidance issued Wednesday by the Vermont Agency of Education and Department of Health couldn’t come soon enough for Danville School instrumental & vocal music teacher Emily Wiggett.

“For many students, music is their entire world,” said Wiggett in an email response to questions. “They have gone without and have really suffered for it….Until yesterday, students were not permitted to sing or play wind instruments indoors. And singing is THE fundamental skill taught in elementary schools…”

The new guidelines now allow students to sing and play wind instruments inside as long as they adhere to a long list of COVID-19 protocols.

Some of the protocols include:

* Band students will have to wear surgical masks with small slits in them to allow for instrument mouthpieces and keep a regular mask ready to wear when they are not actively playing.

* Horn players must use filtered, multi-layer bell covers.

* Students must space themselves six feet apart in all directions - regardless of age. The only exception is trombonists who must maintain a nine-foot bubble.

* Singers must wear masks at all times.

* Rehearsals will be limited to 30 minutes and there must be at least one complete exchange of air between classes in which the room is left vacant.

* Sharing of instruments must be limited and community instruments - such as percussion - must be disinfected after each use.

* All group activities must be as small as possible and ensembles or classmates that are not actively practicing cannot be present.

The state has also declared that ensembles, bands and individual students may resume performances effective immediately but the performances must be streamed virtually to allow family and friends to watch from home and/or other students to watch from their classrooms.

Ensembles must not be mixed or combined during performances and performances, in general, should be moved outside when the weather allows, according to the guidance.

Audiences must be physically distanced and grouped by individuals or by family unit.

Other school music COVID-19 limitations remain in place.

“Music educators are still teaching from a cart and pushing into the elementary classrooms,” said Wiggett. “There are only so many instruments you can fit on a cart, so that continues to be a major limiting factor. We also teach remote students several days a week. There is currently no technology that allows us to make music together in real-time, so students are missing out on the real value of taking music courses: the aesthetic experience.”

Wiggett, who also serves as President-Elect of the Vermont Music Educators Association (VMEA), credits fellow Northeast Kingdom Music Teachers and VMEA officers Bill Prue of North Country Union High School and Molly Tobin of Concord School for bringing “cutting edge aerosol research” to the attention of the Agency of Education as it developed the new guidance.

“It has been a major challenge for music educators around the state but we look forward to having the opportunity to make live music together,” said Wiggett. “If there’s anything that I have gained from this pandemic, it’s the reaffirmation that high-quality music education is essential in the lives of our students and communities and it belongs in every school.”

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