High School Band Triumphs Overs Bureaucracy


There are few victories sweeter in life than that of young teenagers triumphing over organized mean-spirited adults in positions of seemingly absolute power. This is a story that comes out of Gold Beach, Oregon. It pits the high school band, consisting of 15 teenagers ranging in age from 15 to 18, against the powerful local teacher’s union that tried to shut the band down because their unpaid volunteer band director, who everybody agreed was doing a good job, did not possess an Oregon teaching credential.

As far as the kids were concerned, it was simply a matter of wanting to play music. They had nearly won the District Festival competition last year under the same uncredentialed band director, and they figured they had a good chance of winning it all this year.

But for the teacher’s union it was a matter of revenge, not against the band or its director, but against the school superintendent who had presided over teacher layoffs forced by the economic downturn in recent years. The band itself was nearly a casualty of the bad economy, but the school superintendent, Jeff Davis, made it possible for it to survive by allowing an unpaid volunteer to teach it.

That volunteer happened to be Lenie Duffy. She felt she had no choice. The previous band director, another volunteer, had died suddenly of a heart attack. The last “paid” band director had taken a job in another district two years previous, in part to escape looming teacher layoffs.

Lenie had been a “credentialed” California teacher for 9 years. And for the past 15 years, she has been an unpaid volunteer in the local schools’ classrooms, spending the last 5 years as the choir’s piano accompanist, and the last year plus as band director. Everybody — students, parents, teachers, even the union activists — heaped praise on her for her work with the band, and she was even nominated a couple of months ago as the town’s “volunteer of the year.” But she did not have an Oregon teaching credential.

The union, frustrated by the superintendent and fearing more layoffs, secretly filed a complaint with the state’s Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC). They simply could not allow an unpaid volunteer, no matter how good, to fill a position that their contract said was worth about $80,000 a year in compensation. It set a bad precedent, as far as they were concerned.

The news hit Gold Beach like the Grinch descending on the town. “How could they!” many in the town gasped. It was the talk of the coffee shops and everyone was on the band’s side.

The kids took to their social media of choice, Facebook, condemning the teacher’s union with harsh, sometimes obscene, language. On the afternoon they were supposed to report to the school library instead of the band room, they staged a mass sit-in on the concrete steps that led to the band room. The local newspaper went wild with letters of complaint from parents and community members.

The union reps went on damage control. Their goal, they insisted, was not to hurt the kids. They told the local volunteer choir director, whose class they had also forced into cancellation, that they did it “for the good of the kids,” arguing that only credentialed teachers should be allowed to teach children.

But here’s where this sad saga turns more sensible.

Backwoods Home Magazine decided to help the kids fight back against the teacher’s union. The editor moved out of his office and made room for a “band room.” The band reformed itself into an off-campus club, just like the high school golf club BHM sponsors. In fact, the golf club subsequently held an emergency meeting and agreed to donate $1,000 (nearly half of its funds) to the band to show its support. The band relocated to the BHM building and now practices there as a club, free from any further threat from the teacher’s union. They will lose the half credit they should have earned for the semester, but they will still get to put on their scheduled concerts and compete at the District Festival.

Together, with just a little help from the private sector, they just defeated the bully in the schoolyard.

From Backwoods Home Magazine

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