Even though a renowned area marching band won’t be working together for at least several more months due to COVID-19, its leader still sees an opportunity for growth while they’re away and believes the time still isn’t quite right to return.
“We’re really going to miss that (togetherness) until something changes, but we’re brainstorming ideas for our music students to spend more time on things that we normally would not have the opportunity to work on,” Waltrip High School band director Jesse Espinosa said.
The continued stoppage comes in the wake of the University Interscholastic League’s Tuesday morning announcement of significant scheduling modifications for sports and extracurricular activities that will impact multiple area schools. The organization also released amended COVID-19 mitigation guidelines that will take effect Aug. 1.
One major modification is that the beginning of marching band activities and curriculum would be pushed back until Sept. 7 per the UIL guidelines – already a major delay for the Rams’ marching band, which has won dozens of awards and competitions under Espinosa’s direction.
And in line with guidelines recently set out by interim superintendent Grenita Lathan that Houston ISD will not hold in-person classes until at least Oct. 19, Espinosa said he is not bolting full speed ahead Sept. 7.
He will continue the virtual instruction as has done for the last few months until at least Oct. 19, and even said the virtual work has allowed his students to work on their small chamber groups as well as solo music – which ordinarily might fall by the wayside during marching season.
“We’re definitely going to continue to encourage the students and (try to) be a positive light for them to continue to shine on their music and their instruments,” he said. “They have great talent that can still be developed and worked on without marching band taking place for the time being.”
According to the UIL, start dates for the 2020 football and volleyball seasons have also been pushed back at least a month – volleyball to Sept. 14 and football to the week of Sept. 24 – for schools that compete in Class 6A and 5A. Scarborough High School, which competes in Class 4A, will tentatively be able to begin its fall seasons on time on Aug. 10 for volleyball and Aug. 27 for football. Cross Country and tennis can host meets beginning Aug. 17 for all classifications.
However, the new dates will delay the start of the seasons for Waltrip as well as Heights High School. They also push the Rams’ marching band’s potential state competition back until at least December. But Espinosa said even though it “hurts his heart” that his students cannot be together performing, he knows there is more at stake than a musical or athletic competition as COVID-19 cases continues to surge across the Houston region.
“I just don’t think anybody’s health or life is disposable, especially for the sake of having a marching band season or football season,” he said. “I put more value on seeing my students again. I do miss them, but I know the right decision was made to keep everyone a safe distance away for now until we can get better control.”
Schools must require staff to self-screen and screen visitors for COVID-19 symptoms before they take part in any UIL activities such as band or athletics, or enter areas where UIL activities are being conducted under the new guidelines. Parents must also hold students out of activities if they show any symptoms of the coronavirus, according to the UIL.
Schools must also make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available inside band halls, locker rooms or any other shared space, and thoroughly sanitize those areas and any shared equipment after each use.
The UIL said all employees, parents, visitors and students 10 years of age or older must wear face coverings or face shields upon entry to an area where UIL activities are being conducted if they are not practicing or playing. The UIL also said groups such as marching bands, cheerleaders, drill teams, and other groups approved by the school district may attend and perform at games or contests, but schools should consider limiting participants to those essential to the performance.
“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said in a news release. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”
The full updated UIL COVID-19 guidelines can be viewed at uiltexas.org/policy/covid-19/2020-2021-uil-covid-19-risk-mitigation-guidelines. More information such as modified athletics schedules can be found at uiltexas.org/policy/covid-19.
“I have confidence that we’ll still have a great start to our school year and remain safe,” Espinosa said. “So that when we get back together, we’re all back and ready to roar again.”