FARMINGTON, Utah (ABC4) – Students and parents alike were thrilled when the Mayor of Honolulu extended an invitation to the Farmington High School band to perform at the remembrance of the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
However, due to enforcement of Davis County School District policy, the band won’t be making the trip.
“I just feel like they’ve completely overstepped their bounds here,” Meghan Parrish, a band parent, tells ABC4 of the school board’s decision to not permit her child’s group to attend the ceremony in Hawaii.
District representatives say the board is merely upholding policies that have been in place since 1992.
After a lively discussion in a board of education meeting on June 2, the decision to deny the band’s appeal to travel to Hawaii was upheld by a 5-2 vote.
“They heard the different points of view, and they had to look at the policy and determine if this something that fits within the policy, and it just doesn’t,” Davis County School District Communications Director Christopher Williams explains to ABC4.
According to the district’s policy on extended travel, officials and parents both agree that the proposed excursion would be in violation of three points; duration of the trip, fairness among other schools, and travel costs.
With the anniversary of the attacks at Pearl Harbor on Tuesday, December 7, the itinerary presented to the board indicated that the students would have to miss five consecutive schools, which exceeds the policy limit of three days. The trip would also be outside of the continental United States, which is prohibited by the same policy.
In her explanation, Parrish pointed out that the schedule includes many educational opportunities, apart from the experience at Pearl Harbor. Workshops and visits to BYU-Hawaii were set up, as were additional performances around the island.
“If you look at the itinerary there’s really only like one afternoon where the group would if they’re lucky, be able to spend a couple of hours at the beach. It’s just packed full of educational opportunities,” the mother of senior bassoon player, Cole, says. “The board is maybe thinking it’s just a trip to Hawaii and we all want to go to Hawaii, but it’s not that kind of a trip at all.”
She also adds that the ceremony at Pearl Harbor being held in the middle of the week comes at no fault of the group or anyone in the planning. December 7, a Tuesday, will be the actual 80th anniversary of the Japanese attacks on the military base in 1941.
Another point raised by the school board during the discussion on the topic involved other programs besides Farmington’s band. According to Parrish, there are some groups who are frustrated that they weren’t invited to perform on such a grand stage and have voiced their feelings on the matter, to some effect. She feels that the Phoenix’s band, which won 5A state championships in 2019 and 2020, shouldn’t lose a unique opportunity because other schools in the district weren’t invited.
“Just because we were the ones that were given the opportunity to go and just because not every band in the district was given that opportunity, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be allowed to go,” Parrish states.
The third part of the policy under contention was the high costs of sending the group across the Pacific Ocean for a five-day trip. The district’s policy, which officials explained has been updated regularly, states that costs cannot exceed $1,000 per student. The projected cost of sending Farmington’s band to Pearl Harbor came in at around $2,900.
Parrish, however, feels that the district is overstepping its ability to dictate how the program wants to spend its money. With fundraisers in place and overwhelming support from families willing to contribute to the expenses – a confidential vote of the band’s parents found 107 of 108 in favor of the trip – she feels that the district is wielding too much influence over a trip that would be optional for participating students.
“It doesn’t cost the school or the district a single cent, we’ve taken care of all of it. And I think that’s also one of the things that the school board feels that they really would like to influence where the money is spent or where it should go. I just don’t think they grasp but it’s not their money,” Parrish says.
Williams tells ABC4 that the decision was purely policy-based and that the board could not make an exception.
“Then there’s all sorts of policies that the school board has to adhere to. If they start violating one policy they can violate any of them anytime. If that’s the case, why is there even a policy regarding anything,” he asks rhetorically.
He also expressed concerns that an exception, in this case, could result in a different sort of outrage or public outcry.
“I would think the news would be if the board didn’t follow its own policy, the media, the public could question, why is the school board not following its own policy,” he asserts.
As for whether he thinks anyone would be upset about a school board approving a trip of this nature, he maintains that some would still be upset.
“There could easily be someone who would say the school board isn’t even following their own policy if that was the case,” he suggests. “I would think if any school board violates his own policies, they should be questioned why are they not following policy.”
At this point, Parrish feels that the invitation will have to be declined and that the avenues for board approval have all but closed completely. Both Parrish and Williams state that it would not be a good idea for the group to go rogue and leave for Hawaii on their own volition. Williams says such an act would create a series of issues related to insurance and liability. Parrish states that on the band’s side, they are concerned that an unapproved trip would result in retaliation towards those who are employed by the school district. Also, because the instruments are owned by the district and rented by the students, getting the equipment there would also present problems.
Beginning his explanation of the school board’s decision, Williams mentioned how highly he thinks of Farmington’s top-ranked band program and the facility and parents involved with their success. Similar remarks were given when the school board discussed the issue in a meeting setting.
“The first thing that the board president, John Robison, said was basically this discussion has nothing to do with the quality of the program or the quality of instructor. Both are outstanding. I’ve said that to every media outlet that I’ve talked to,” Williams adds.
Still, the parents and students involved with the band are disappointed in the board’s decision. Parrish is hoping that putting the situation to a megaphone will result in policy changes that can allow for future opportunities to be pursued.
“What I’m looking at on this is maybe it will at least open a conversation so that we can look at changing the policy for the future because I don’t think it works for this district.”