Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tonight's show will go on, but a question and an issue remain

Today's Naples Daily News editorial, "Sounding a good note on Collier student performances" (in print, "Chorus compromise beats battle in court") summarized the outcome of Tuesday's School Board meeting as it relates to tonight's Barron Collier High School (BCHS) choral concert at Moorings Presbyterian Church. Some excerpts:
There were welcomed conciliatory notes sounded ... to keep the Collier County school district out of a legal battle over using a church for student performances. The [School Board] addressed how to comply with its policies and stay within the parameters of a ruling in a court case in Utah....

The board majority [Curatolo, Sprague and Terry] made the right call in a 3-2 vote supporting the compromise presented by its attorney to enable a choral teacher or other music instructor to excuse a student from performing individual songs that he or she considers objectionable....

[Attorney] Fishbane's sensible solution diverges from the idea of allowing students to completely opt out of an entire performance. Instead, if a student or his/her parent objects to performing a religious song, the student is simply excused from the group for that song and rejoins it for pieces that are secular in nature. In that way, the student isn't singled out among peers for missing the entire performance. The location of the performance thereby also becomes secondary, because the student would be excused from the sacred song whether it is performed at a church, concert hall or in an auditorium.
So the short-run crisis has been averted. Attorney Fishbane and Superintendent Patton no doubt devoted many hours during the weeks since this firestorm erupted to find what the Naples Daily News called a "sensible solution" so tonight's BCHS concert can take place at Moorings Presbyterian Church as planned.

Presumably, this is what the choir members and their parents wanted.

I think we and they should applaud Mr. Fishbane and Dr. Patton for finding a responsible compromise. And we should applaud Ms. Curatolo, Ms. Sprague and Mr. Terry for supporting their recommendation.

However one question and one issue remain in my mind.

My question

According to BCHS Principal Caraker's October 29 letter to parents referred to in my previous post, concerns about BCHS Chorus performances being held at Moorings Presbyterian Church were raised by parents and the ACLU a year ago. In May, with the goal of supporting the choir program when the ACLU advised it was considering legal action, the District "did a careful review of both the propriety of the performance literature content as well as the venue issue." While allowing the May concert to go forward at the church, the District "concluded that a search for alternative venues providing a multi-site balance was appropriate moving forward."

The Barron Collier High School Combined Choir with Alumni
at the Moorings Presbyterian Church, Naples, FL

So why did BCHS find itself, in late October 2014, with an "unsanctioned event that did not comply with administrative procedures" that was scheduled "without [Principal Caraker's] knowledge?"

Did BCHS Choir Director Todd Peterson have the responsibility for finding alternative venues and ensuring that they were scheduled and approved according to the school's administrative procedures? And if so, why did he not do so, and how has or will this failure be dealt with?

My remaining issue

The crisis over the December BCHS Choral concert is behind us, but if the current performance schedule follows that of the past, the next concert will take place in March. This situation must not be allowed to happen again.

Mr. Fishbane made clear at Tuesday's School Board meeting that in his legal opinion, no current District policy or administrative procedure addresses the matter of cocurricular-activity venue or program content objectionable to a student or parent on the basis of their religious beliefs. He said the Board has the option to decide through ongoing discussion over the next few months if they want to address these issues through policy and suggested a possible way for them to do so.

This will be a difficult and contentious process, but surely ours is not the first School District to be faced with this issue. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. I suggest that Mr. Fishbane and staff identify best practices in this policy area for consideration by Dr. Patton and the Board as soon as possible. And I look forward to the resolution of this matter well before the next BCHS Choral concert, in a calm, inclusive, respectful manner that avoids litigation.

And again, Mr. Fishbane and Dr. Patton, thank you for your diligence and hard work to get this matter resolved so that tonight's show can go on. And thank you, Ms. Curatolo, Ms. Sprague and Mr. Terry, for your support.

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