Jefferson Principal Denies Approval for National Show Choir Competition

By Meryn Fluker, Reporter

Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School show choir "West Side Delegation" performs during the 2013 Showzam competition at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa in January 2013. (COURTESY PHOTO)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A decision from Jefferson High School Principal Charles McDonnell has struck a bad note with members of West Side Delegation, the school's show choir.

On March 27, McDonnell notified Kent Keating, a vocal music teacher at the school and West Side Delegation director, that administrators had decided not to allow the students to travel to Chicago and compete in the FAME National Show Choir Finals on Saturday, April 26 and Sunday, April 27.

McDonnell sent a letter to Keating and associate director Brett Epperson, which they distributed to parents of the choir members, citing conflicts with other activities, academic concerns and financial demands as reasons for his decision.

"We haven’t had this type of situation come up where we’ve had all these conflicts," McDonnell said. "It was not a decision that was discussed with administration before going forward. It’s a tough situation."

Following a third-place finish in mid-March at a national qualifying competition in Orlando, members of West Side Delegation voted on whether or not to attend the final contest in Chicago. Despite the conflicts, most of the choir members chose to compete, but that wasn't enough for administrators to permit the group to attend.

"In spite of a majority vote, I cannot support a trip that puts so many students in a stressful position," McDonnell wrote in his letter.

The announcement shocked Keating, who didn't even consider the possibility that the request would be denied.

“It didn’t cross my mind," he said. "It was an issue I thought we'd decide ourselves. I thought (administrators would) be thrilled for us."

Keating said he did not recall even knowing the date of the national competition nor the potential scheduling conflicts when he signed the choir up for the preliminary rounds in August 2012.

"You don’t know if you're going to make it or not. You never know when you go down if you’re going to make it because it’s such a tough competition," he said.

A number of West Side Delegation parents have voiced their displeasure with McDonnell's decision, with some feeling that he is singling out the choir.

"I'm really frustrated," said B.J. Franklin, whose son Quinn is a junior at Jefferson and a member of West Side Delegation. "The kids worked so hard ... It's a bigger issue than them being able to go to Chicago."

Members of the choir agreed and also took aim at what they felt were insufficient arguments from the school administration.

"After four years, to finally have a shot at a national title ... to suddenly have that chance taken away, it's not fair and it doesn't make any logical sense to me," said Christopher Culver, a senior in the show choir.

"The explanation we've been given doesn't make any sense," said junior show choir member Eric Sindelar, who recently returned from an administrator-approved spring break trip to Ireland with the Jefferson, Kennedy and Washington high schools' instrumental music departments.

According to the students, competing at nationals was optional and a choice left up to the individual participants and their families. In addition, Keating said he planned to accommodate singers who had scheduling conflicts but wanted to perform in Chicago.

"They're not being given a choice," Franklin said. "That's the issue. This decision was made. It was delivered and that was supposed to be it."

Some parents are saddened because they feel like their voices aren't being heard.

"I feel like there wasn't even a discussion about it," said Lisa Waite, whose daughter Rylie is a senior at Jefferson and in the show choir. "It was shot right down as far as administration goes."

Keating, who was gone from school for much of Thursday due to a sinus infection, said he hopes to speak with McDonnell in person and get further explanation for his actions. The vocal music director said he's not sure whether the decision is final. Shannon Carberry, a senior is West Side Delegation, is hoping it's not.

"I still wanna go," she said.

To watch Westside Delegation perform click here.

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