Allow Virginia's public school performing arts students to perform

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Performing safely in light of COVID has been of utmost importance to our public school music and theatre arts teachers and students. Performers have been outfitted with special masks that cover their nose/mouth and musicians utilize bell covers for the instruments. These mitigation strategies, along with appropriate physical distancing measures, have been scientifically proven to ensure safe performance practices both outdoors and indoors. 

Governor Ralph S. Northam updated Executive Order 72 (EO 72), effective April 1, 2021, which includes statewide measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. Portions of EO 72 applies to public and private schools. The EO states that gathering limits do not apply to “educational instructional settings.” This includes classrooms, buses, cafeterias and recess held on school grounds.

However, the Executive Order states "a ‘gathering’ includes, but is not limited to, parties, celebrations, or other social events, whether they occur indoors or outdoors.” This includes, but is not limited to, school activities such as: social picnics, dances, awards ceremonies in which degrees or diplomas are not conferred, fundraisers, and fine arts performances to which parents or the public are invited. These activities are subject to the gathering limits in place via Executive Order at the time they occur.

School-affiliated sports are not considered social gatherings but are included in the Recreational Sports section of EO 72. Outdoor recreational sports attendance has increased from 250 to 500 people, or 30% capacity, whichever is less. 

The provisions of EO72 are inequitable towards school performing arts programs. 

The Virginia Music Educators Association requests a review of Executive Order 72 to align school performing arts to the "Entertainment and Amusement Businesses " guidance which includes performing arts venues and concert venues, sports venues, as well as others. Such guidance includes, but is not limited to, the following requirements: (a) The total number of spectators indoors cannot exceed the lesser of 30 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy, if applicable, or 500 persons. The total number of spectators for outdoor venues cannot exceed 30 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy. If no occupancy load has been determined, a ratio of 40 square feet per person shall be used to determine occupancy limits – only square footage that is likely to be accessed may be included. For example, a 100,000 square foot outdoor venue would have an occupancy load of 2,500 – of which no more than 30% (750 persons) shall be permitted.

These revisions are necessary to ensure performing arts students can perform for an audience that is safe and appropriate for their particular performance venue. The implications that music and theatre instruction, as well as their aligned performance opportunities (with an audience), are considered in the above-mentioned 'social gatherings' is hurtful to arts education and doesn’t clearly articulate nor support the artistic work and dedication of our teachers and students.