Better Together

Updated September 18, 2020. Better Together.

This past week has certainly been eventful for our membership.  While continuing to find ways to teach our students safely during these extraordinary times, we have rediscovered some time-honored truths.

The first truth is that we are better together.  LMEA is a composite of the talents, resiliency, and determination of our members.  The revisions made to the Covid-19 guidance, honoring some of our requests, came about because of you and your colleagues. 

Had we not spoken up as individual teachers and as a unified organization, adjustments simply would not have happened.  The positive changes were not the result of one or two people making many calls and contacts.  Changes happened because many members made personal contacts with key people in positions of power and influence.

The second truth is that it is good to have scientific research to back-up your words.  Had LMEA not been active in partnering with the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) over the past six months, the important data which supported our cause would not have been at our fingertips.  

The third truth is that good governance can overcome politics and bureaucracy.  Good governance feeds off transparency and openness to rational public input.  The State Superintendent, his staff members, and the State Health Department could have turned a deaf ear to our information, data, and arguments.  They did not.  So yes, they deserve credit as well.

LMEA has been a good “team player” since the outset of the pandemic.  While never abandoning our commitment to our students, we worked hard to stay in compliance with national, state, and local guidelines.  We will continue to do so.

This episode has certainly deepened LMEA’s partnership with LDOE.  We recognize that the Governor and LDOE have profound responsibilities.  We have never questioned their authority.  But we do wish to be informed and engaged in guidance impacting music education.

Once again, we are better together.  Please accept my personal thanks for being an active member of LMEA.

Scotty Walker, President
Louisiana Music Educators Association

Updated September 15, 2020. Mixed Messages – LDOE Guidelines.

Two recent communications from the Louisiana Department of Education, have created serious concerns, disappointment, and confusion among music educators in Louisiana.  

After the Governor announced the moving of the state to Phase 3, our State Superintendent of Education, in a formal press release, announced that musical wind instruments and vocalist could proceed with indoor rehearsals, so long as appropriate social distancing and precautions were in place.  Several days later, the Louisiana Department of Education issued a new guidance document that reversed the Superintendents announcement.

What is even more distressing for music educators is that no explanation was provided to explain or justify the sudden policy change.  From the outset of Covid-19, LMEA has closely followed the shifting guidance provided by LDOE.  

We are clearly mystified by how various rules and guidelines are crafted and determined. There is almost a “Wizard of Oz” imagery involved, where decisions are made behind a “curtain of bureaucracy.”  Music educators, parents, and students have been clearly left in the dark. 

The most recent guidance document (September 15, 2020) states that: Athletic activities are allowed to resume with the recommendations put forth in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Guidance for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities.  Band and vocal music must follow the updated outlined guidance below.

In essence, the updated guidance does not allow indoor activities for singing and wind blowing instruments.  This sudden change also reverses earlier LDOE guidance documents that stated indoor activities “may resume in Phase 3, with physical distance recommendations in effect.”

As many of you know, the LHSAA guidelines closely parallel the National Federation of High Schools guidelines.  The NFHS has likewise produced guidelines on music education.  While LDOE is following LHSAA (NFHS) guidance for athletics, LDOE is not utilizing NFHS guidance as relates to music education.  

I need your proactive assistance in sharing with your administrators and parents our disappointment and frustration with the LDOE processes and decisions.  We must be proactive at the grass roots level to force transparency by LDOE decision makers.  

Scotty Walker, President
Louisiana Music Educators Association

Updated July 17, 2020. Statement on Aerosol Study.

“It will be quite a monumental task.” “It will be a year unlike any other.”  These two quotes from Superintendent Brumley resonate with all of us.  As music educators, we naturally view what is happening through the prism of our past experiences, current challenges, and future goals as related to our students and music programs.

Administrators, officials, parents, students, and other educators see things through their unique prisms as well.  We can collectively be successful this year by listening to one another, finding common ground, and being stronger than the obstacles we face.

So, what is success this year?  Success, as always, will be defined by what we were able to do for our children within the environment in which we operated.  The good news is that we are musicians.  Creativity is in our DNA.  We will find a way.

Since my last message, so much has happened.  I apologize that this communication will be a bit longer than usual.  But I want to touch as many bases as I can, rather than bombard you with a series of messages. Some of what I discuss remains beyond our control. But in other matters, we have already begun to make significant progress.

Like many of you, I watched the presentation on the aerosol study being sponsored by multiple national organizations.  The work being done is most welcome and worthwhile.  As a result, we are becoming more informed about the science.  The data was clearly preliminary and offered us only a limited number of suggestions and best practices to reduce risk.  If you have not viewed the presentation, I encourage you to do so. (Performing Arts Aerosol Study)

On the plus side, the most recent update (July 15) of the Start Strong 2020 Guidance, does allow wind instruments and choirs to rehearse indoors with appropriate distancing once Louisiana enters Phase 3.  See page nine of the document for specific guidance. (Start Strong 2020 July 15 update)

Recent decisions by LHSAA to curtail certain sports until Louisiana exits Phase 3, reinforces the seriousness of the current situation in our schools. While this “sports” decision does not directly impact music education, it is a strong indicator of “which way the wind is blowing” across our state.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) recently finalized a “minimum standards” document for all school districts.  School districts will be submitting their own independent plans to LDOE for approval.

In the next 30 days, much will happen at the national, state, school district, and school level.  Plans for the reopening of schools are going to evolve, shift, pivot, bend, break, and take new shape.  The first day of school, in whatever form it emerges, will not reflect what the plan happens to look like today.  Likewise, the second day of school, the second week of school, and each new month will certainly bring more changes.  That is the reality in which we will operate.

Despite the chaotic atmosphere in which we find ourselves, LMEA has been able to make progress in areas over which we have some control.  Yes!  There will be an LMEA Professional Development Conference.  This will be a virtual conference. We are currently targeting November 20-23, 2020, as conference dates.  Many more details will be communicated to you in the near future.

All-State is still on.  We have committed to using digital recording in the audition process.  A team of LMEA officials are working on procedures and timetables. If possible, the All-State groups will assemble, rehearse, and perform March 28-30, 2021, in Baton Rouge. We also recognize that circumstances might not allow an in-person event.  Therefore, we are also exploring ways to bring all-state students together in a virtual manner. 

Ensemble assessments as well as the State Solo Festival in the spring are still being planned, though there may be some necessary adjustments in our normal procedures to meet LDOE/CDC guidelines and restrictions.

Our Board of Directors will be meeting in late July to discuss many issues, plot a course forward, and explore initiatives for the upcoming year.  An LMEA calendar of events will be developed. But with so much uncertainty about what will happen over the next 60 days, we will not likely finalize the calendar until September.  Even then, it will be subject to change as circumstances change.

In closing, I want you to know that every day I recommit myself to doing all I can for my students, school, and community.  I ask that you do the same.

Scotty Walker, President
Louisiana Music Educators Association

Updated July 3, 2020. Regarding LDOE’s Update to Fall Reopening.

As many of you are aware, the Louisiana Department of Education has issued an updated FAQ pertaining to the reopening of Louisiana schools for the fall semester.  In the updated document, guidance continues to shift in a variety of ways.

Rather than gaining clarity, administrators and music teachers across the state are experiencing “less” rather than “more” understanding on how music education classes will operate during the reopening of school.

The most recent LDOE update indicates “Band and Choir should not occur indoors during Phase 2 and 3, but may occur if they take place outside with social distancing measures in place.”

The Louisiana Music Educators Association is working in conjunction with the National Association for Music Education and the National Federation of High Schools.  All three organizations are anxiously awaiting the formal results of a national study on aerosol disbursement in Band and Choir activities.  Within the next two weeks, we hope to have sufficient scientific evidence to move forward in appealing for changes in guidance, not only in Louisiana, but across the nation.

While we wait for scientific evidence, I am working with various LMEA members and local school officials to establish a meeting with LDOE.  In this meeting, we will (1) seek to discover LDOE’s reasoning for their current guidance and (2) present our case for indoor music rehearsals/classes with appropriate social distancing rules in place.

I ask that you remain resilient and proactive.  Please remain positive and compliant with guidelines.  I also ask that you continue to explore all avenues to influence change.  As teachers we understand that safety is of the utmost importance.  We will do all that must be done to insure that for our children and schools.   

Scotty Walker, President
Louisiana Music Educators Association

Updated June 30, 2020. Conference, All-State, and Large Ensemble Assessment for 2020-21.

The LMEA Executive Board has been closely monitoring all developments as relates to the reopening of Louisiana schools for the fall semester.  After gathering as much information as possible from a variety of official sources, the Executive Board has concluded that “Plan A” as provided in our “Activities and Contingency Plans” is not feasible. 

CDC guidelines, LDOE guidance, and individual school district travel restrictions for students and faculty members pointed us away from “Plan A” and towards “Plan B.”  Shifting to “Plan B” will result in various adjustments and alternative strategies.

A traditional face-to-face State Music Conference will not be held this year.  However, our Conference Chairman, James Hearne, will initiate a study on the potential of creating a “virtual” conference for our members similar to what other states and national organizations are doing. He will report back to the Executive Board on his findings and recommendations.

Along with our Executive Director, I will work to establish alternative dates and sites for our All-State performance during the spring semester of the 2020-2021 school year.  Various Board members are engaged in continuing discussion and research on how to create an effective and fair audition process within all the appropriate safety guidelines.  The Executive Board will be preparing a proposal for the full Board of Directors to consider in our August Board meeting.

Likewise, there is a consensus on the Executive Board that we should continue plans to provide performance assessments in the spring semester.  A general outline of how this might work will be developed and presented to the full Board of Directors for consideration in August.

Scotty Walker, President
Louisiana Music Educators Association

Updated June 26, 2020. Proactive Response – LDOE Guidelines.

Two recent announcements at the state level have elevated concern among music educators in Louisiana. The Governor halted our state’s “next phase of reopening” due to a spike in the number of Coronavirus cases. Shortly thereafter, the Louisiana Department of Education issued a School Reopening Guidelines and Resources document on the operational reopening of schools for the start of the 2020-2021 academic school year.

The return of students to campuses for the fall semester, remains primarily dependent on Louisiana moving forward in reopening stages. The way our schools will operate will be greatly influenced by these stages. LDOE provides both “mandated guidelines” and “suggestions” to school districts based on varying stages. To some extent, school districts will be able to study options and make local decisions.  Please note that new LDOE guidelines contain these statements:

Athletic activities are allowed to resume with the recommendations put forth in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Guidance for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities. Band and vocal music may resume in Phase 3, with physical distance recommendations in effect.

As many of you know, the LHSAA guidelines closely parallel the National Federation of High Schools guidelines. The NFHS has likewise produced guidelines on music education. On behalf of LMEA, I will be working to ensure that NFHS documents related to music education are given to officials at LDOE. I will also reach out to LHSAA for contacts that could forward our cause.

I need your proactive assistance in sharing these NFHS documents with local administrators and decision makers. Requesting that your administrators share this information with LDOE officials, will also be particularly important. 

Together, we can be proactive and make a difference in our state. No matter what the future holds, we all share the same desire and determination to push forward the inclusion of music education on behalf of our students. 

Scotty Walker, President
Louisiana Music Educators Association

June 19, 2020.  Communications Message – Editor Position.

Over the past six years, LMEA has expanded and modernized its communications system. While maintaining the Louisiana Musician as our official journal, we have upgraded our website, enabling it to become the hub for information, services, and communications. We also added digital newsletters and an official “members” Facebook page.

Our communications network is continuing to evolve. Most recently, we expanded our social media presence to include a twitter account and a public Facebook page. This will enable LMEA to boost our visibility with the general public as well as increase the speed with which we communicate with our members. These new developments have emerged from our recent push for music education advocacy.

With the retirement of our long-serving editor, the LMEA Executive Board has taken action to initiate the search for an LMEA member to assume this critical role. With the many changes taking place in our communications, we will take time to review and revise the job description for this position based on the changes in our communications network.

Following this, an application process will be created by the Executive Board and presented to the full Board of Directors during our next official meeting in August 2020. With Board approval, we will then launch the application process for interested members in September 2020.

With publications work and deadlines already upon us, the Executive Board has asked our Public Relations Chairman, Carolyn Herrington, to serve as interim editor during the 2020-2021 academic school year. She will work closely with our retired editor, Pat Deaville, and our Webmaster, Sharon McNamara-Horne, to ensure that our magazine, newsletter, and assorted communications tools are well coordinated as we complete our search for a full-time editor.

Scotty Walker, President

May 18, 2020. Let me begin, by thanking all of you for the opportunity to serve you during these extraordinary times. Amid all the uncertainties of the upcoming school year, the one certainty I have in my heart, is that together we will do what is best for our students. But the way we do it, may include a great deal of experimentation and adaptation. LMEA consists of incredibly talented educators who time and again have weathered difficulty days. We can do this.

Across our nation, music educators and their respective associations are thinking and planning. Our LMEA Board has had multiple meetings to discuss a path forward. We recognize that we are planning while dealing with many unknowns. In Louisiana, the manner in which we return to a relatively normal teaching pattern, will be slow, bumpy and to some extent unpredictable.

It is imperative to plan for a variety of scenarios, knowing we must also be compliant with various guidelines that will be imposed at the federal, state, and local authorities. To some extent, what we do, will be guided by administrators and leaders who themselves are fenced-in by a variety of mandates.

The LMEA Board of Directors is proceeding with parallel visions of how our events such as all-state, conference, and assessments may take place. While we are setting in motion all the logistical plans for a school year that may be similar to what we have done in the past, we are also taking into account that we will likely have to make adjustments in response to the evolving situation. As a result, we are developing numerous contingency plans.

As we proceed through the summer, the LMEA Board will communicate with our members through newsletters, the LMEA website, the LMEA Facebook page, and our District Directors/Division Chairs. It is imperative that we remain both united and flexible during this challenging time.

We are also working diligently to assemble an advocacy committee made up of representatives from across the state to ensure that our collective voice is heard at all levels. Likewise, we will be developing a resources section on our website, to assist you in addressing distance learning.

Stay strong. Keep the faith. Stay safe.
Scotty Walker