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Union County schools end ban on lyrics in music at sporting events

The Union County school district is changing its tune and ending its ban on lyrics used in music at athletic events.

“The lyrics are back. It’s what the kids wanted,” school board Chair Richard Yercheck said. “Hopefully everyone will move forward with a smile on their face.”

The ban may have been the first of its kind in the country, according to national and state education trade groups. Yercheck said the move to end the ban followed a meeting last week between a group of principals and Superintendent Mary Ellis.

The athletics director for the district of 41,000 students will now establish a committee to review songs submitted for consideration and decide which ones are allowed at school events.

On Tuesday, Deputy Superintendent Mike Webb declined to provide details of the plan until after the school board and principals receive the guidelines on Wednesday.

Karen Shelton, a parent who helped lead the fight to overturn the ban, said she is pleased the district responded to the needs of students and the community. Her online petition against the ban drew more than 750 signatures.

“Hopefully students will learn from this and submit songs that are available for public consumption,” Shelton said.

The district had decided to move to a ban a couple years ago following incidents of offensive lyrics at most high schools, although officials could not provide examples of the problems.

The ban began at the start of the last school year. Instrumental-only music was used at high school athletic events, and middle school games for sports sponsored by the school district, including basketball and cheerleading.

During a school board meeting last month, Shelton and several other parents and students urged the board to reconsider the rule. They said the ban crippled their freedom of expression. Several dance team members said the ban made it tough for them to perform and promote school spirit with just instrumental music playing.

Shelton had compared the policy to the movie “Footloose,” where a small town banned dancing and rock music. Her daughter is on one of the dance teams, and Shelton said the group is ecstatic about being able to perform to music with lyrics again.

The National School Boards Association and its North Carolina chapter have said they had not heard of another school district that had enacted a blanket ban on lyrics.

Neither had the National Association for Music Education. “I’m glad they overturned the ban. It seemed very extreme to me,” association Assistant Executive Director Elizabeth Lasko said. “They used some common sense here.”

A committee approach to reviewing lyrics seems like a good idea, Lasko said, as long as the group has clear parameters to follow.

Bell: 704-358-5696; on Twitter: @abell
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