December 18, 2019

Union lawsuit says all students deserve art and music

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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student playing violin
Caption: Getty Images.

Parents and teachers have sued the Buffalo Public Schools, charging that more than 90 percent of high school students are deprived of state-required art and music courses.

“For over a year, parents and teachers have sought to have the Buffalo School Board provide secondary students with state-required art and music instruction,” said Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore. “While the art and music programs are readily available in the suburbs, not so in Buffalo. Is the message here that Buffalo students are unworthy of these programs?”

The NYSUT/BTF suit, filed this week in Erie County state Supreme Court on behalf of five BTF teachers and parents, seeks a court order directing the district to equitably offer arts courses and sequences to all Buffalo high school students.

The lawsuit contends the district fails to offer students the state-mandated opportunity to complete a three- or five-unit sequence in the arts to earn a Regents diploma. During the 2019-20 school year, only two of the city’s 20 high schools offered such an option: the admission-restricted Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts and the Lewis J. Bennett High School of Innovative Technology, which offers a sequence in media arts.

Since these two high schools account for only 758 of the district’s 10,014 high school students, the district fails to provide opportunities to pursue an arts sequence to 92.5 percent of its secondary students. “An opportunity offered to only 7.5 percent of district students cannot be considered equitable by any stretch of the imagination,” the lawsuit states.

To make matters worse, the district has cut courses necessary for juniors and seniors who were already in the process of completing an arts sequence to finish their path to graduation, the lawsuit says. BTF also noted that for some of the few music and art classes offered, students must attend classes outside of school hours if they want to participate.

Two parents provided statements that their sons were denied the opportunity to participate in concert band and that the district forced their sons to continue to take a foreign language for a Regents diploma with advanced designation rather than allow their sons to complete an arts sequence. Another parent stated that her son was denied the opportunity to study any music in high school.

“Students are being harmed by the district’s failure to comply with the law,” Rumore said.

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