To the Editor,

We, the members of the Friends of Manchester Essex Performing Arts, are writing this letter to advocate for our Manchester Essex Regional School District students and also for all K-12 students in Massachusetts. Our school committee members and our school leaders have worked tirelessly with the local boards of health to ensure a safe return to in person school at least two days a week for students preK-12. Based on guidance from MIAA/DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) most sports have been able to run safely outside and inside. Contact sports like basketball and hockey are currently being held while following safety guidelines from MIAA/DESE. Vocal performance is currently not allowed inside. The inconsistencies are obvious and concerning.

Currently DESE does not allow singing (music classes, chorus, musical theater) indoors. This not only impacts extracurriculars like a capella groups and musical theater, but also classes that are part of the general curriculum like general music classes beginning in kindergarten and chorus beginning in 4th grade. It currently impacts all students K-5 and many students’ grades 6-12. This decision impacts the health and well-being of many students district wide.  It also impacts the long-term health of musical programs in districts across the state. If students are currently unable to participate in singing and theater, they are less likely to choose these paths long term, to the potential future detriment of these programs.

Performing Arts is a vital component of a strong education program. 

We believe that if performing arts had a similar statewide organization like MIAA for athletics, then new guidelines would have been created and singing would be allowed indoors. Currently at least 26 states allow indoor singing in schools with safety guidelines. We are asking our local superintendent, school committee members, and DESE to give the same time and attention and importance to performing arts that they do to athletics. Too many children are left out of activities they love and need to grow as healthy, well rounded people.

We ask that you join us in reaching out to your local school district, Commissioner Jeff Riley at  commissioner@doe.ma.edu, Senator Jason Lewis (co-chair, Joint Committee on Education) Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov, and Joint Committee on Education: Dennis Burke, Legislative Director, Dennis.Burke@masenate.gov   to advocate for bringing vocal performance back indoors safely. Join the MERSD School Committee meeting virtually Tuesday, March 2 at 6.00 p.m. to advocate for performing arts.

Thank you for your support, from the Friends of Manchester Essex Performing Arts (www.friendsofmeperformingarts.com).

Shoshy Starr Collins, Manchester