‘It’s a reasonable request’: Parents continue to push for changes to CMS policy on performing arts

Town of Matthews offers its community theater space for students to perform in but booster club says that presents challenges as well.

Town steps in to keep high school play going in Matthews

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - There’s been a lot of disappointments for high school students this past year.

The pandemic disrupted their school year for months, sending them to remote learning for most of the year.

And just because they’re back now, parents say things aren’t better.

This week, students at Providence High School were told they wouldn’t get to perform their spring musical as they originally planned.

Parents are now asking why.

“A live performance with an audience who pays to come see them, that’s their big game, that’s their playoff and they’re being cheated out of it this year,” said Angie Hall, whose daughter is in the musical.

Hall said her daughters and the rest of the cast have been putting hours of work into the musical since January.

She said the original plan was for opening night to be in April.

They were planning to perform to a very small group of friends and family while everyone was wearing masks and socially distanced.

But according to the parents and the theater booster club, the student’s performance is only going to happen during school hours to an audience of teachers and students. Parents aren’t allowed to attend.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking. You want to be there, you want to be the one crying in the seat and stand up and applaud,” said Amy Wilder, whose daughter is also in the musical.

The Town of Matthews offered its community theater space for students to perform in.

Commissioner Ken McCool graduated from Providence High School and is a supporter of students in the arts.

“We need to make sure that our students, in such a hard year, who have had so much taken away, have the same right as all students and the ones who are athletes,” he said.

Parents and commissioner McCool are wondering why this is so different from indoor athletics.

Sports, like basketball and volleyball, allowed some parents in the spring. Theater parents want the rules to be the same.

“You can go watch your child play volleyball or basketball. But you can’t watch your kids act or play. I just want to make sure there’s equity here,” McCool said.

Parents say what the commissioner did was so generous.

They say it shows their students they have the town behind them, even if it feels like CMS isn’t.

But parents say there are other problems with moving an entire production.

“It’s not just the cast you see on the stage, which would basically be what we’d be able to move,” said Providence High parent Mitzi Lynch. “It’s countless hours of work done by tech theater students. There are amazing tech crews that make the performance look great. All the sets built by the cast in the last six months wouldn’t be able to be moved.”

Parents want to make sure those students can also be appreciated.

That’s why parents say CMS needs to change its policy. Dozens of emails have been sent but parents say no response.

Angie Hall is personally inviting Superintendent Earnest Winston to the school.

“I want him to meet me in the auditorium so we can show him that we want the same thing the board does. We want our students, our community to stay healthy and safe,” she said. “We don’t want to put anyone in harms way in any means. We think we can do this in a safe manner. And I’m sure if I can show him what our plan is, they’ll see it’s a reasonable request.”

The parents are asking for an in-person performance with a capacity of 75 people. Parents say the theater seats more than 800 people.

“If someone could explain the science to me, I’d sit down and shut up,” said Hall. “I don’t understand how you can increase numbers for basketball and football attendance and yank all this away from your art students. We just want an even playing field.”

CMS said in a statement on Friday that the decision was made in part because “health and safety protocols are still important for the protection of our students.”

The statement also said this regarding high school athletics: “High School sports competitions are overseen by the NCHSAA and that organization offers clear guidance about spectator attendance.”

CMS did not get back to WBTV’s request for comment on Monday.

The rest of the statement from Friday reads:

“The Providence High School show was not cancelled. It had been postponed from a previous date and is now scheduled to be performed the third weekend in May to an audience of students and staff. We are enabling students only to participate and attend in arts performances, club and class events and senior activities while in-person, and schools will have end of year celebrations. Health and safety protocols are still important for the protection of our students.”

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