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SALT LAKE CITY — More than 500 concerned individuals have signed a petition urging the Granite School District to abandon its plans to cut band and orchestra programs in elementary schools.
But district officials say no such plans exist.
"We haven't talked about elementary music since our last budget cycle," said district spokesman Ben Horsley. "It's been a year."
Horsley said last summer a committee was formed to look at possible adjustments to the elementary music program, but terminating the program entirely was never suggested. He said changes were made to allow more flexibility at the local school level instead of a one-size-fits-all program.
"We eliminated the top-down program approach and allowed schools to decide for themselves," he said.
In most cases, Horsley said, music specialists will visit a school and work with the students in a grade while their teachers have collaborative meetings with their teams. It is up to a school's administration to decide the amount of time dedicated to music and whether those classes involve simpler instruments like recorders or more complex band and orchestra instruction.
Forty district officials are listed on the petition and each receive a generic, form email when the petition is signed, resulting in district servers being inundated with more than 20,000 identical emails over the past two weeks. The petition was created by the anonymous entity "Protect Band and Orchestra," which district officials have unsuccessfully attempted to contact.
We eliminated the top-down program approach and allowed schools to decide for themselves.
They have had similar troubles convincing the administrators of change.org, a free social-media protest site, to remove the petition.
In the meantime, signatures have come from all around the state and, in some cases, from other locations in the country.
"Learning music is so important!!!," wrote Salt Lake City resident Kaylynne Clayton. "Please don't cut this great program."
Taylorsville resident Evelyn Westwood wrote: "Granite School District cutting music programs??? That is a very foolish idea and extremely wrong."
Granite School District board president Gayleen Gandy took to the comment section of the petition's website to explain what was happening in the district. Despite her comment being the first one listed on the site, signatures have continued to trickle in.
She wrote: "Let me reiterate once more that the Granite Board of Education is not planning or discussing cuts to the elementary band and orchestra programs. We have simply allowed for more local decision making and flexibility for schools."
I couldn't go to sleep as long as there were people out there thinking we were talking about that.
–Granite School District board president Gayleen Gandy
Gandy said she finds the petition odd, first because it's unclear where the petition is coming from and second because it is simply untrue. She said the members of the board are very passionate about preserving music in schools and, if anything, would like to expand the program.
"We have no intention of eliminating elementary music," she said. "Our intention is to increase the number of students and find ways to bring music back into every classroom."
Gandy said she feels some frustration because she would like to respond to people's concerns, but the emails she receives from the petition contain only names and no contact information. She said she stayed up late drafting her comment on the petition site because she was worried about being as clear as possible.
"I couldn't go to sleep as long as there were people out there thinking we were talking about that," she said.
Horsley said he has tried to contact as many petitioners as he can to answer their questions and hopefully provide some clarity on the issue. He emphasized that at no point has the district considered terminating elementary music.
"Considering we've had to cut $53 million dollars out of the budget over three years, it shows our commitment to the program," Horsley said.
Gandy said another issue community councils are grappling with is possibly adding 9th graders to some Granite high schools. So far only Kearns, Granger and Cottonwood High are considering the change.
"As much as possible we'd like to keep those decisions within the community," she said.
With an estimated 70,000 students attending more than 80 schools, Gandy said parents undeniably know what's best for their school.
"Every public school has a community council. Those councils are set up, by law, so that parents have the strongest voice," she said.
Contributing: Lori Prichard