ANTIOCH -- Concerned about absenteeism, Antioch Unified School District trustees are unhappy with a high school chorus's plans to visit Hawaii this spring.

The school board last week debated the merits of Antioch High School's Music Masters traveling to Oahu in April to compete in the Hawaii Heritage Music Festival, an annual event the group has attended for the past 19 years. Trustees are scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to approve the trip.

Although Music Masters Director Ron Molina has shortened the trip so that his 27 students would miss four days instead of six, trustees say that's not good enough.

"If the children are not at school they cannot learn," said board member Claire Smith, adding that some parents have complained that teens have missed tests that they couldn't make up because they went on the Music Masters excursion.

"Missing four days of school for one day of competition -- the balance doesn't seem to be there," Smith said.

Smith and others emphasized that they aren't opposed to students going to Hawaii per se, but they noted that there are three other chances to participate in the festival, including during the district's weeklong spring break in late March.

Although Molina didn't attend the meeting, Antioch High Principal Louie Rocha explained that the teacher wanted to stay home during that period so he can spend time with his family.

The proposed outing marks the second time that the school board has grappled with this issue since it voted last year to have the final say on whether students go on field trips, arguing that they were missing too much class time.

In September, 23 members of Deer Valley High School's cross-country team had to shave one day off a trip to Oregon to compete with athletes from across the Western United States.

The board authorized the travel only after organizers agreed to modify their plans so students would miss only one day of school instead of two.

"We're not going to abandon our commitment to academic rigor and fairness," said board President Walter Ruehlig, noting that to endorse the Hawaii trip would be a double standard.

But the trustees' stance doesn't sit well with at least some of the students in Music Masters, including Cameron Strawther.

To the adults who fret that he and his peers' grades will suffer, the 16-year-old says they're overlooking some important distinctions.

"(They're putting) the Music Masters kids into the same category at students who don't perform to their highest potential," he said.

In fact, Strawther said, teens auditioning for the chorus are aware of district policy, which requires students to maintain at least a C average and have no more than one failing grade per semester to participate in school-sponsored extracurricular activities.

Molina keeps tabs on their grades and makes it clear that he expects them to toe the line, he added.

And they do because they don't want to jeopardize their standing with a group that has earned considerable respect for its achievements, Strawther said.

Third-year Music Masters member Andrea Heberlein echoes his comments.

"He warns us if our grades aren't good you're not going," the 17-year-old senior said of Molina.

He tells students to get homework assignments from their teachers before leaving, Heberlein said.

"We do our work," she said, noting that on the past two trips to Hawaii she and others have formed study groups during the flights and do classwork at the hotel in between activities.

But the argument doesn't hold water with Ruehlig, who points out that he voted to curb Deer Valley High runners' travel despite the fact that his son was on the team and has a 3.95 grade point average.

He and Smith say that even conscientious students can have a hard time catching up because classes are held in concentrated blocks of time; a single session is equivalent to two classes in a conventional daily schedule.

Ruehlig said the board is partly responsible for the current dilemma because it should have specified how long field trips can be.

Molina declined to comment on the situation, saying he wanted to wait until the board has made a decision.

Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141 or rcoetsee@bayareanewsgroup.com.

IF YOU GO

  • WHAT: Antioch Unified School District board meeting

  • WHERE: 510 G St., Antioch

  • WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday

  • CONTACT: 925-706-4100