No action on request to curb school activities on Sunday

After a parent brought forward petitions to end Sunday events in the district, the Anoka-Hennepin School Board has no plans to consider pertinent policy changes.

Anoka Middle School for the Arts presented “A Christmas Carol” the first two weekends in December. The second weekend, the theater boosters circulated a petition to save Sunday shows. Photo courtesy of Jefferson Fietek

Anoka Middle School for the Arts presented “A Christmas Carol” the first two weekends in December. The second weekend, the theater boosters circulated a petition to save Sunday shows. Photo courtesy of Jefferson Fietek

Kristin Lambert, whose oldest daughter attends Anoka Middle School for the Arts, came before the board Dec. 9 and Jan. 13, urging members to preserve one day a week for families.

Presenting a petition signed by 94 students, parents and community members, Lambert detailed a list of Sunday events scheduled at Anoka Middle School for the Arts and area high schools.

The board was shocked by the number of Sunday events on school calendars, but on taking a closer look with administrators, the majority of the events are rentals, various groups using school facilities, according to Board Chairman Tom Heidemann.

Some are not. At Anoka Middle School, four theatrical productions each academic year with two Sunday matinees per run account for 20 percent of the school year’s Sundays, which is “excessive and just plain wrong,” according to Lambert. “It is not in the best interest of adults or youth to be required to work seven days a week,” Lambert said.

Anoka Middle School for the Arts Theater Department Chairman Jefferson Fietek said Lambert “hasn’t really been representing things in an honest way” since she alluded that students who want to be involved in theater must dedicate a large portion of their Sundays to the program, he said.

First of all, no students perform in all four shows, so no students involved in theater are required to be in school 20 percent of the year’s Sundays, Fietek said.

Students can be involved in theater without performing in the shows. Theater field trips, a holiday party, lock-in and the state theater conference do not require Sunday participation. The Thespian Club meets on Mondays. Lambert’s daughter does not take advantage of any of those opportunities, Fietek said.

Lambert questioned the district’s decision to flout the Minnesota High School League’s precedent.

The Minnesota High School League prohibits activities on Sundays, so most athletic teams cannot practice or compete on that day. Similarly, students involved in certain arts activities, including the league’s one-act play competition, are not allowed to rehearse or perform on Sundays, according to league bylaws.

District and school events that the league does not oversee, including many musical and theatrical performances, can be scheduled on Sundays.

Additionally, Lambert cited studies that found students benefited academically and socially from time spent eating meals and worshiping with family.

Worried that Sunday matinees were in jeopardy, the Anoka Middle School for the Arts Theater boosters sprang into action.

Sunday matinees are both the most popular and the most profitable at Anoka Middle School for the Arts with many elderly and small children attending.

To save the shows, the boosters circulated a petition at the final three performances of “A Christmas Carol” and online at change.org. The petitions collectively garnered more than 650 signatures.

“… The Sunday performances of our shows are the cornerstone of family-orientated activities to a large number of families in our community,” the petition reads.

At the Sunday, Dec. 15 matinee, the boosters asked audience members to raise their hands if they attended as a family. Everyone raised their hands, according to Fietek.

Boosters were planning to address the board Jan. 13, but Heidemann contacted them beforehand, alleviating concerns.

Heidemann said he responded to 30 emails, most of which were from theater boosters, and contacted Lambert before the Jan. 13 meeting to say that the board is uninterested in pursuing a policy change.

The matinees happen rarely and are critical to the program’s success, Heidemann said in an interview.

“It’s a huge relief for us,” said Roxy Orcutt, an active member of the boosters. Her stepson is involved in theater at Anoka Middle School for the Arts.

The board’s inaction shows it supports the arts like it does athletics, Orcutt said.

Lambert sees it differently. Addressing the board a second time Monday, Lambert presented an online petition with more than 180 signatures.

“The Anoka School District is in the business to educate students residing in this area, and the needs of those students should be paramount over financial gain or community service,” Lambert said.

After the meeting, Heidemann said that the board would not take action and no policy change would be pursued.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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