New Mexico Music Educators Association (NMMEA) represents over 500 music educators and over 50,000 students in the state of New Mexico. We are deeply concerned about the inequities of students being allowed to participate in contact sports and other high-risk activities but not permitted to sing or play wind instruments when there is scientific data to support being able to do so with minimal risk. Also confusing is the report that venues may offer live music at their establishments, but students in school may not rehearse in person even when applying extreme mitigation techniques. Additionally, the current New Mexico guidelines allow singing in houses of worship. Why can’t the same be done for schools where the average age of attendance is much younger?
The State has said repeatedly in their press conferences that they are making decisions regarding reinstatement of activities based on science; however, it appears that science is being ignored when it comes to making decisions regarding music education. NMMEA is not taking a stand on the issue of reopening schools as this needs to be a decision of the local school board; however, if a district chooses to re-open, we feel it is inequitable not to allow the playing of wind instruments and singing in the classroom. We urgently plead that the current science be considered and the current PED guidelines prohibiting in-person playing of wind instruments and singing at all instructional levels (K-12) be amended.
An international coalition of arts organizations sponsored the Performing Arts Aerosol Study (www.nfhs.org) to specifically examine aerosols that are generated while singing, playing wind instruments, speaking, acting, and dancing. The study concluded that if music participants apply specific mitigation strategies such as masking, bell covers, 6-foot social distancing, reduced rehearsal time, and increased ventilation, aerosol emission can be reduced between 60 and 90 percent. Understanding that aerosols are the main vehicle for transmitting COVID, we are confident that the data from this study can shed clarity on the safety of singing and playing of wind instruments. Additionally, the CDC refers to this study and these mitigation strategies in their newly released K-12 Schools Mitigation Tool Kit (p.34).
Many school districts nationwide have applied the study’s recommended mitigation measures with great success. Successful programs such as the Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska and many within New Mexico, including the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, San Juan Youth Symphony, and New Mexico State University Bands have held in-person rehearsals with no reported infections.
NMMEA has attempted to navigate the proper channels of communication and has offered to work alongside the PED and DOH, but our efforts have been dismissed. From our communication, our understanding is that a basis for the restriction on in-person singing and playing of wind instruments is based upon a news article that referenced a church choir rehearsal that took place in Washington at the very beginning of the pandemic (March 2020). This rehearsal, where many people (average age 69 years) were presumed to be infected, involving 61 members not wearing masks, spaced 6 -10 inches apart, rehearsing for over an hour, and sharing snacks is in no way representative of the current suggested mitigation techniques or what NMMEA endorses.
Arts Education is a vital component of a well-rounded education, is a co-curricular activity with standards, and is being severely compromised by the current restrictions. While our educators have been creative in their instruction, there is simply no substitute for the act of making music together in person.
We understand and respect the abundance of caution being taken in regard to reopening of schools and the reinstatement of activities. NMMEA is also committed to the safety of all New Mexico students and educators. However, with no known reported cases of COVID within reinstated music programs applying the aforementioned mitigation techniques, we again encourage the State to reconsider their position.