Parents start petition to change new District 87 policy requiring students to choose music or other electives

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Parents in the Bloomington Public Schools-District 87 are pushing back against a new policy that forces students to choose between music classes and other electives.

In March, Bloomington Junior High School changed in-person learning due to COVID-19 to allow for more social, emotional learning. Part of this was classifying band, orchestra and choir as part of the school’s Arts For Life program which is also home to home economics, foreign language and computer science.

This past week, parents started a petition to the District 87 board and superintendent to go back on the decision that students must choose between picking up a saxophone or baking cookies in home economics.

Before the change, students could play in the band or orchestra and learn a foreign language, but now have to choose one or the other.

Lauren Lowell is a mom of two band students in the district and said the decision will be a “massive blow” to the district’s fine arts program.

“About half of his (my kid’s) friends are dropping it so they can do the other things. We’re going to see a huge decline in participation,” Lowell said.

Lowell said the district has been “very supportive” of music programs in the past, but now feels music students are being singled out in the new learning plan.

If students choose oven mitts over mallets, it’s nearly impossible for a student to resume band, orchestra or choir a year later she said.

“There’s no re-entry point. That’s the other problem. If they decide in 7th grade to take the year off from music, there’s not a place for them to get back in if they want to play in high school because the curriculum and skills build upon each other,” Lowell said.

Lowell and other supporters of the music approach said music classes already have built-in components of the SEL learning the district is trying to incorporate more of.

“You’ve got 50-100 kids sitting in a room, each with their individual instruments and they are working together as a group to create this music. Or the marching band [for example is] learning drill and putting something together they couldn’t create themselves and that’s community. That’s SEL learning,” Lowell said.

Band student and senior at Bloomington High School Levi Briggs said he signed the petition.

“It’s a real family that you have there as opposed to just playing an instrument for 45 minutes. There’s genuine connections and life long friends that I’ve made,” Briggs said.

Briggs said when he was a student at BJHS he was allowed to do both the music classes and the Arts For Life classes like home economics. There are countless benefits to students being allowed to take both, he said.

“I think it’s very segregational to make them choose between music and real-life things you need to know,” Briggs said.

So far, the petition has nearly 2,000 signatures and has a goal of garnering 2,500 total.

Numbers as of 5:28 p.m.

District 87 spokesperson Julia Perez sent a statement to WMBD about the decision via email.

“We have heard the concerns from our parents and are in the process of reviewing possible options that will allow our music students to be able to choose courses in our Arts for Life rotation.  We anticipate having more information by the end of the week at which time Dr. Reilly or Dr. Wolf would be happy to speak and share more information.”

Julia Perez, Communication Director | Bloomington District 87

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