LAPORTE-The fate of Laporte Public School's music program-and its lone music teacher-has caused a stir there.
Citing declining student interest, Laporte's School Board quietly voted Monday, April 9, to discontinue its music program and put music teacher Louise Bass on unrequested leave. Parents and other community members have objected strongly to the move in the days since.
"I feel like music is very important in our school. It's important to the kids and it's important to the community," said Jessica Howg, who has a pre-kindergartener, a seventh-grader and a ninth-grader in the district. "I also feel like the way that it happened with no community input whatsoever was done poorly."
Board Chair John Seegmiller said music is the district's least popular high school elective. The high school music class there is full, he told the Pioneer, but that's because more popular art and physical education classes had already filled up. Only a handful of students had voluntarily registered for high school music, Seegmiller said. (Elementary music classes are mandatory.)
"The students are telling us with their feet. They're not signing up, so we decided that we probably need to go in a whole new direction to try and rebuild this program," Seegmiller said. "We don't want to throw people in a program just to fill it if it's not working."
In elementary grades, existing music programming is set to be replaced with music lessons taught by students' everyday teachers, who would cede their own science and technology lessons to a new specialist district administrators plan to hire.
And in grades 7-12, the music program would simply be eliminated.
The board's decision still needs to be finalized when district leaders formally adopt next year's budget in June. And Bass could appeal the decision, Seegmiller said.
But many parents and members of the public are already pushing back against the program's elimination, which took many by surprise.
"That's, I think, what really hurt the community," said Sandy Pierce, a 2010 Laporte High School graduate. Pierce said Bass is a well-liked teacher who helped shape the adult Pierce has become. She and Howg wondered whether non-specialist teachers would be able to replace Bass' expertise.
"I feel like having them teach music is not gonna be nearly as beneficial to our kids," Howg said. "We have amazing teachers at our school. Nothing against those teachers, but they already have a lot on their plate."
Bass said she didn't know the board's decision was coming. She said she was shocked and in disbelief after the vote, and left the board meeting immediately afterward.
The school's Curriculum Committee recommended the program reduction, but the committee's agenda, meeting minutes and schedule are not readily available on the Laporte Public School's website. A three-page packet from the committee's most recent meeting, which the Pioneer obtained last week, has a "music program" agenda item, but does not mention eliminating it.
The agenda for last Monday's regular School Board meeting, where board members voted to eliminate the music program, indicates that they were scheduled to review that curriculum committee meeting, but that agenda item, as supplied to the Pioneer, has no supporting documentation and makes no mention of elimination, either.
"In hindsight, we should have talked," Seegmiller said.
Bass declined to comment when asked if she'd appeal the board's decision or if legal action was in the works.
District leaders planned a pair of meetings this week to discuss Laporte Public School's broader direction as a district, but canceled those amid concerns that they'd only focus on the music program.
Seegmiller said district leaders plan to host meetings this summer to see what parents and other community members would like Laporte to offer instead of the music program or, perhaps, how to reconstitute it.
Those opposed to the elimination have scheduled a meeting of their own-Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Laporte Fire Hall-to get on the same page and figure out ways to keep the program, and Bass, who's been a music educator for 34 years.
"Music touches lives and brings people together," Bass said. "I believe all schools should have a music curriculum."