Harford County school board upholds theater fee, community pushes back

Posted at 5:18 PM, Jun 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-29 07:50:56-04

Drama students and supporters rallied outside the Harford County Board of Education to push back against plans to charge a $100 fee for school drama productions, yet school board members voted Monday to uphold their decision.

Despite hearing testimony from community members on the importance of making arts education accessible to all, board members voted 5-3 to maintain the inclusion of a $100 theater fee. The fee was included in the Harford County Public Schools’ 2017 budget, which passed June 13.

According to the Harford County theater community, higher fees could cripple not only participation in school drama programs, but also the budgets of hard working families.

RELATED: Harford County drama students want "pay to perform" fee repealed

”It’s the middle class kids who’ll be most hurt by this,” said Laurie Starkey, a science teacher and drama program director at Havre de Grace Middle School. “It’s the middle class whose families will be stuck making the decision of what their kids can afford being involved in. It’s so unfair.”

Starkey, the mother of two recent high school graduates who were involved in theater productions at school, said it would've been a struggle if she’d been forced to finance her kids’ interests in both sports and drama each year. She believes school officials are unfairly singling out drama students, who often depend on the arts as a form of release.

”Theater for some kids, that’s their safe haven,” she said.

The stage, according to Carrie Dill, a former Havre de Grace High School student and member of the Tidewater Players community theater group, could even deter young people from turning to substance abuse as an escape.

“In a county where heroin is such a hot button topic right now, it costs less to buy [drugs] than it would for kids to play sports or be involved in drama,” Dill said. “What are the kids going to turn to as an outlet?”

RELATED: Harford County drama students to protest participation fee for theater productions

It’s not yet clear how the new fee will be enforced throughout the year, a grey area that's contributed to frustrations. Starkey said, unlike sports programs which require money for uniforms and bus rentals, theater productions are self-supporting, with show ticket sales and fundraising efforts going toward costs for costumes and sets.

While the vote still stands, Bel Air High School senior and theater member Samantha Imeidopf said students plan to put pressure on the school board to lower the fee with help from parent associations and local supporters.

“We’re going to fight for the arts that we love," Imeidopf said. "Harford County gave us the skills to be able to stand up for ourselves and we’re taking everything we’ve been taught in school to show that we’re not going to be quiet.”

Even Ryan Wagner of the Orioles joined the chorus to bolster the cause. The voice of Oriole Park took to Twitter Tuesday calling for locals to help raise money and shaming the school board for their decision.

“I am going to be @HCPSchools worst nightmare on this. You cannot charge these kids to make art. It's despicable,” he said in a Twitter post. 

The Harford County Board of Education didn't return ABC2's request for comment.

Follow Andrea Boston on Twitter @AndreaFromABC2.

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