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an empty stage at the Globe Theater in London

This guest editorial is from Ralph E. Shaffer, Professor Emeritus, History  Cal Poly Pomona:


Bowing to the demands of “Let Them Play,” a parents/coaches organization that pushed for the return of sports competition in California’s public schools, an embattled Governor Gavin Newsom has announced new rules that will allow practice and competition this spring in all school sports.

The governor’s reversal was welcomed by athletes sidelined for nearly a year, but raises serious questions about the favoritism shown to sports playing kids while ignoring those students whose interests lie in the performing arts. They are still benched!

The governor, faced with a recall and needing the votes of those sports-minded parents he had alienated, initially allowed the return of sports competition to football and other outdoor sports, but still restricted indoor contact sports.

That changed dramatically when, in early March, a lawsuit brought by two high school seniors was settled, allowing the return of all high school sports, though with some slight restrictions. As part of the settlement, the state will pay for weekly Covid testing of the athletes, and for tests prior to competition. Masks will be worn on the bench by the players but not on the field.

But choir members, and others in the performing arts, must wear a mask even when practicing, and they can’t, as yet, perform on the stage. At the Orange County School of the Arts, which went digital and virtual last spring at the onset of the pandemic, the students still operate under state-mandated rules that make live, in person performances impossible, while practices and rehearsals take place online.  Quarterbacks don’t have to throw virtual passes, but an actor voicing sweet nothings to a girl must do it digitally.

Advocates for a return of high school athletics offered several arguments for lifting the ban. The kids needed the outlet to cope with the stress brought on by the pandemic and their inability to socialize with classmates. Seniors, particularly, were harmed by their inability to perform on the field at a time when college recruiters would be watching them with financially attractive scholarships waiting. Mental stress, which would normally be alleviated by playing, was becoming evident in the kids. And the sports camps that many attended during the summer were cancelled last year and might have been cancelled again this year,

That was the case for the return of high school sports. It is also much the same argument why the performing arts at all of Orange County’s public schools ought to have been included in the governor’s original reversal and in the law suit settlement.

Performing arts programs have been as hard hit by the pandemic as sports.  Each year, bands and orchestras at Orange County high schools and junior highs perform an annual concert, in addition to performing regularly at school assemblies, in smaller ensembles for community organizations, and at graduations and other ceremonies. The bands march in numerous parades, and with luck they might make a Rose Parade.

Not this year! The senior quarterback may have lost his chance to perform before a university scout, but the senior soprano never got to sing her farewell concert before classmates, parents and friends. The lead in “Our Town” was silent last spring, and again this spring, as high schools cancelled plays, debates, and speech contests. This year the girls from Santa Ana High didn’t get a chance to trounce the guys from Beverly Hills High in a regional debate.

Sports camps were shuttered, but so were in person music camps at Angelus Oaks and Idyllwild. The talented high school seniors who were usually employed to assist at the music camps had no jobs to go to, and lost out on the money that might have paid for their college tuition.  A virtual music camp is better than none, but it lacks the camaraderie that is enjoyed by sharing a summer’s week with fellow musicians.

The sports parents of “Let Them Play!” are better organized than arts parents. Shouting and badgering officials are part of their normal routine. They are more likely to be heard. Their cause, however, is no more worthy than that of the kids in the performing arts.

The governor and the California Department of Public Health, both of which caved in to the rant from the bleachers, ought to be as willing to provide financial aid in the form of testing to allow music, drama and debate to resume on the same terms as athletics. Failure to do that is a slap at the academic side of a high school education.

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