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Union school district to revisit lyrics ban at athletic events

Union County school officials say they will reconsider a controversial rule that banned the use of lyrics for music at various athletic events.

The ban, prompted by complaints over inappropriate words in songs, may be the first of its kind in the country.

But parents and students have urged the school district to reverse the decision. One parent’s online petition to repeal the ban garnered more than 650 signatures.

At a school board meeting this week, Marvin Ridge High School sophomore Amanda Baker told the board she expresses her emotions through the school’s dance team, which performs to music at athletic events to pump up the crowd. But Baker was crushed to learn about the ban that began at the start of this school year.

Only instrumental music could be played. Several girls quit the team.

“How is the crowd going to respond without knowing what the lyrics are trying to tell them?” Baker said. “I need my team back, I need my dancers back and most of all, I need my lyrics back.”

Baker was among several students and parents who asked the board to reconsider the ban. District administrators, principals and other staff will meet in July to seek a resolution, board Chair Richard Yercheck said.

A couple of years ago, then-Superintendent Ed Davis decided to enact the ban, and gave schools a year to transition to it, said schools spokesman Rob Jackson.

Incidents of offensive music were encountered at most high schools, Jackson said, but added there was no way to gather a list of the complaints citing the offending lyrics. The ban began at the start of the current school year.

Instrumental-only music was to be used at high school athletic events, and also middle school games for sports sponsored by the school district, including basketball and cheerleading. Booster clubs sponsor middle school football, and it is up to the clubs to determine if they would ban lyrics too, Jackson said.

Neither the National School Boards Association nor its North Carolina chapter was aware of another district imposing such restrictions.

Janine Murphy, assistant legal counsel for the state group, said a broad ban might make more sense than having a district try to choose which lyrics to censor. The ban sounds like a good idea, she said, rather than having a committee “allow ‘God Bless America’ versus name-your-most-offensive-rap-group with lyrics. … You could avoid a lot of problems.”

Elizabeth Lasko, assistant executive director with the National Association for Music Education, also had not heard of any district that banned lyrics outright, although around holiday time, her group fields many questions about performances with sacred music. Her association, which represents public school music teachers, college music professors and music education students, supports performance of religious music within an educational context.

“Banning (all) the words seems like an extreme step to me,” Lasko said.

Karen Shelton, whose daughter is on the Marvin Ridge Middle School dance team, collected signatures for the online petition seeking a reversal of the ban. She called it a “Footloose-style” rule, referencing the movie where a small town prohibited dancing and rock lyrics.

Shelton said the issue revolves around freedom of expression for the students. “Is the chorus going to hum next? Where do you draw the line?”

She said some of the dance team’s songs included “Jingle Bell Rock,” “What Makes You Beautiful” by British boy band One Direction and a Sheryl Crow song from the animated film “Cars.”

Weddington High School’s AP government class tried to promote a solution to the school board by suggesting a club pre-approve songs that could be distributed throughout the district, senior Stephen Wierzbicki said. He told the board that students would benefit from the ban being lifted.

Shelton’s daughter, Leah, agreed. She said it’s hard for the dance team to promote school spirit without lyrics.

“Taking away our lyrics is like telling the football team they are not allowed to tackle,” she told the school board. “Can you imagine sitting through two minutes of just the backbeat to ‘We Will Rock You?’ ”

Bell: 704-358-5696
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