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Pandemic precautions limit band program options at North Van elementary schools

Low enrolment, COVID-19 safety rules factor into school district’s decision to cancel some in-person band and strings

Some North Vancouver elementary students who were looking forward to taking band and strings classes this year are now playing the blues after programs were cancelled as a result of COVID-19.

Giacomo Falorni said his daughter, who is in Grade 5 at Seymour Heights Elementary, was disappointed to learn from a school district newsletter that her school wouldn’t be offering its band program this year. The newsletter was sent just before the Labour Day long weekend. Falorni said there are no other options for his daughter to take band.

“She was so enthusiastic about starting band she’d already selected trumpet and started playing it at home,” said Falorni. “She had literally been looking forward to this for a year. Her older sister, who’s in high school now, had gone through the band program there at Seymour Heights and really enjoyed it.”

Seven of the district’s 25 elementary schools – Larson, Carisbrooke, Highlands, Montroyal, Seymour Heights, Queen Mary and Westview – are not offering on-site band classes this school year.

While 1,430 elementary students were registered in last year’s band and strings program, enrolment was down by 500 students for the upcoming school year, according to the school district.

“We attribute this decrease largely to the realities presented by COVID-19 and the unknowns families faced at the time,” stated Lisa Dalla Vecchia, NVSD spokeswoman, in an emailed response.

Due to the decrease in enrolment, students who had registered last spring for the band and strings program were told that if their school didn’t have the numbers to support the program on-site, they’d be able to register to take band or strings at a neighbouring school or hub site.

“They had informed us back in spring that she would be going to Lynnmour [Elementary] with other students from Seymour Heights for the band program,” said Falorni.

But shortly before the start of the new school year, parents were informed that under the school district’s COVID-19 restart plan, which is based on education ministry and provincial health office guidelines, students who had requested taking lessons at a neighbouring school would no longer be able to do so in order to keep student bubbles as small as possible.

“We cannot cross-enroll,” said Allison Kerr, district principal of arts education.

Kerr emphasized that band and strings is an enrichment program that is paid for by parents and which operates on a cost-recovery basis that the district wasn’t able to recoup this year due to low enrolment.

“Every elementary school has an arts education curriculum – and it’s vibrant and it’s awesome and it’s taught by our teachers in classroom time. Every student has that opportunity,” added Kerr.

Falorni said his daughter was particularly disappointed because since she is going into Grade 5 and had planned to take the beginner’s band program, as opposed to the continuing band program offered to older students, she’s not permitted to take one of the weekly virtual music enrichment programs the school district plans to offer. The district plans to offer the weekly virtual band or strings sessions to offset students whose band or strings programs were cancelled, but the virtual sessions are intended for older elementary students with some band or strings experience already, according to the district.

Where the school district has had to cut band or string programs, it has endeavoured to keep at least one of them active in most schools. While Seymour Heights will not offer on-site band to beginner or continuing students this year, its strings program is still going forward, according to Kerr.

Westview, Queen Mary, Norgate and Carisbrooke will not have band or strings this year.

“We were deeply concerned about making any of these actions,” said Kerr. “We are really confident that COVID will pass and we will go back to the robust program that we are able to offer our community and our kids with band and strings.”