Supporters of Antioch High School's Music Masters packed the district's board room and applauded when school board members voted on Wednesday to allow the 27 students to sing at an international competition in April, even though they will be out of school for four days.
"I don't think missing a few days of school is going to ruin anyone's academic career," said Sara Hall-Cottrell, who sang in Music Masters before graduating from Antioch High in 1990. She, too, went to Hawaii, where she received the added value of a side trip to historic Pearl Harbor, she said.
The Antioch resident echoed the opinions of many students and parents who rallied around the chorus after learning last week that trustees were considering rejecting a trip that has become a time-honored tradition during the past 19 years.
At their previous meeting, board members had expressed mixed emotions as they pondered their dilemma. As much as they respect Music Masters' considerable accomplishments, they said, its travel plans conflict with their commitment to make academics a top priority.
Although chorus director Ron Molina already had shortened the expedition by two days, they said his plans still would cost teens too many valuable class sessions and could make it difficult for them to catch up.
The board last year decided to sign off on overnight and out-of-town field trips as a way of discouraging extended absences.
On Wednesday, board president Walter Ruehlig stood firm, noting that there is a national movement afoot to increase the amount of time students spend in school.
"Being in a seat isn't a bad idea," he said.
However, Ruehlig also acknowledged that visiting Hawaii can be culturally enriching and re-emphasized that he does not oppose this one per se -- only the timing of it. He and other board members contend that Molina should have planned to take his students during the district's weeklong spring break.
Ruehlig said he wished he had known details about the trip earlier, adding that the failure to communicate resulted in a public backlash that could have been avoided.
"I think there was an adult problem here," he said. "I personally regret that it had come to this. It shouldn't have gotten this far."
Molina, who did not speak at the meeting, later said that although he was aware that the district had assumed tighter control of field trips, it has not specified how long they can be.
As such, he said he did not have any reason to think this year's trip would create a stir.
But trustee Claire Smith said she assumed that Music Masters would be traveling during spring break because a district administrator had told the board last year that the choir's field trips no longer would be a problem.
When she found out differently, Smith said she thought she still should approve it.
"It's never been about punishing students," she said, noting that they have worked hard to raise the necessary money and already are excited about the trip. "No one told (them) we need to go during spring break."
Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141 or email@example.com.