Superintendent To Review Jefferson's Show Choir Decision

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 Richard Pratt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Hope may not have run out for the members of West Side Delegation, Jefferson High School’s show choir. They’ll know for sure next week.

An email statement from Marcia Hughes, community relations supervisor for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, sent late Friday afternoon says that West Side Delegation may be able to participate in the FAME National Show Choir Finals if officials with the organization can make scheduling adjustments. These changes would potentially allow students to participate in other activities that conflict with the current nationals schedule.

According to the email, details on FAME’s decision are expected early next week.

The development is the result of Friday meetings between Kent Keating, director of West Side Delegation, Activities Director Chris Deam and Jefferson Principal Charles McDonnell.

McDonnell’s initial decision to deny the choir’s request to travel to Chicago and compete in the event on Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27 is pending review from Superintendent Dave Benson, whom Hughes said was unavailable Friday.

McDonnell notified West Side Delegation’s directors of the decision on March 27 and said he spoke with the superintendent Friday morning.

“I’m perfectly comfortable with his input and happy to have it,” the principal said about Benson’s planned review.

Kent Keating, a vocal music teacher at the school and West Side Delegation director, was ill on March 28 but said he planned to speak to McDonnell on Friday to get more information about the administration’s decision. According to McDonnell, he and Keating spoke Friday morning and planned to talk again but the principal decided not to comment on the nature of the conversation.

On March 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 the move.

“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.”

Members of the community are speaking out now. Principal McDonnell estimated that he had received a dozen emails and half a dozen calls regarding the decision.

“I would say the majority who took the time to email were not in support,” he said.

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