In order to provide the best possible opportunities for talented performing arts students, many of our nation’s educators often find additional events to add to their school calendar beyond the ones that their state association provides annually. However, with those opportunities come risks, especially when participating in an event for the first time or attending one that is new or in the process of changing its structure.
In addition, while many NFHS state associations are not involved in performing arts festivals outside of their own or ones sponsored by the state’s music or speech/debate organization, many have sanctioning policies specifically for such opportunities. By providing a process for gaining sanction status and requiring such events to meet certain standards, they mitigate the risk for educators participating with their students and provide assurance about the event, its operation, participation requirements and value.
Just as there are different approaches to musical auditions, drama festivals and debate competitions from state to state, there are multiple ways that state associations sanction those events. Some require every event, whether in-state or out of state, sponsored by a member school or non-member school, to be sanctioned. Others only require out-of-state events offered to their member schools to go through the sanctioning application process.
That process can range from a single document noting the event’s parameters to a series of pages that look at scheduling, participants, purpose, results, funding and references. Schools looking for an event worthy of their students’ time, energy and financial resources can be assured that an event that has completed that process successfully is a strong indication that it has merit.
Missouri, for example, has an online process to sanction any event (sports and activities). Davine Davis, assistant executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said a sanction request is required to be submitted by the host/event organizer under the following conditions:
• The event is being sponsored by a non-school organization (i.e., college, university, local chamber of commerce, etc.)
• The event is being hosted by a member school with out-of-state schools being invited to attend.
“We do not require our member schools to submit a sanction request if they are hosting the event and only inviting Missouri schools to participate,” Davis said. “However, several do submit the request to allow our office to review the schools to make sure that only member schools are participating. Our schools cannot compete against non-member schools. Once I have reviewed and approved the schools in Missouri, the form is electronically forwarded to the invited states for review/approval. This is similar to how the NFHS does its sanctioning.
“For those states that are athletics only, I have to contact their sanctioning person directly to confirm if the schools listed on the request are member schools in good standing with their respective association. Once this is completed, I can mark the state as approved. Once the event has received final approval, it will appear on our website under the ‘About’ tab in a link called ‘Sanctioned Events.’ This is for the public and schools to view and know that the event is approved for our member schools to participate.”
In North Dakota, schools looking to travel out of state for any music trip in excess of 600 miles round trip during the school year must receive permission from the state association office. This is regardless of contest, festival or ‘recreational/award’ travel.
North Dakota schools are allowed to participate in non-sanctioned contests and festivals throughout the year since music does not have a defined season as in sports or competitive speaking (student congress, debate, speech). Only the state’s regional and state small groups and regional large group events are sanctioned, which is automatic and only for member schools.
In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) uses two different sanctioning forms for music/fine arts – the INTERSTATE sanctioning form (used for out-of-state participants as well as Oklahoma participants), and the INTRASTATE sanctioning form (used when only Oklahoma schools are participating).
“We ask that those forms to be sent to us 30 days prior to the event,” said Mike Plunkett, OSSAA assistant executive director. “On the INTRASTATE forms, it is a simple operation so that the event will fall under our rules, and also qualify under our catastrophic insurance. We have a $300,000 catastrophic insurance policy to cover all sanctioned events.
“Our rules actually state that anytime three or more schools get together and ratings or evaluations are given, they are supposed to get it sanctioned by the OSSAA. When the OSSAA sanctions these events, the schools promise to follow our rules concerning academic eligibility, age limitations and no homeschooled students participating (and other rules). Many schools will require an activity to be sanctioned by the OSSAA, or else they will not allow the students to attend, or make the group pay for their own transportation.
“We have some gray areas when it comes to music. For example, the OSSAA does not have show choir as one of its events. We do solos, concert choir, small ensembles, but not show choir. In that case if a school was to have a show choir contest, it would be up to the school if it wanted to have the event sanctioned. Most do, so that they will be covered by the catastrophic insurance policy.
“On the INTERSTATE forms, we ask the Oklahoma school what other state will be participating, and exactly what schools are going to attend from out-of-state. I then forward a copy to the activities association in that state with the list of schools. They will look at the list and see if the schools are member schools, and in good standing, and then sign off on it and forward it to me. I send it to the teacher. In this part of the country, many states will not allow their students to cross the state line unless the contest has been approved by the host state.”
Clearly, the trend in sanctioning is to make sure that member schools can count on a fair and educationally based experience, one that supports the policies of the sanctioning organization in regard to participants and purpose. Sanctioning is more prevalent in the Midwest where it may be a shorter drive to an event in another state than to a comparable one in your home state. Fewer state associations require sanctioning or even have a policy in the Northeast where travel distances are appreciably less.
For an educator seeking an outstanding experience for his or her performing arts students – in addition to ones offered through the state’s annual festival activity – using the list of sanctioned events provided on state association websites would be an excellent place to start.
Steffen Parker, a member of the High School Today Publications Committee, is a music educator, computer geek and instructional support specialist from Vermont where he organizes music festivals and supports other states with online services for their events.