ITALY – During administrative reports at Monday night’s meeting of the Italy ISD board of trustees, three students and a band booster member addressed the board regarding the T-shirts high school band members are wearing this year.
The students, Drenda Burk, Nick Cooper and Brett Kirton, all expressed their support for Jesus Perez, band director. They all pointed out how he brought a struggling band program to sweepstakes winning status in a relatively short period.
Susan Jacinto, a band parent and teacher at the elementary school, expressed her support for Perez and the band program, as well.
Basset said he did not have a problem with the T-shirt because he understood the meanings behind each symbol on the shirt. He said he asked staff around the district who also understood the symbolism of the shirts.
He said the last thing he wants to do is offend the public but said he wants the public to “weigh in” on this subject.
This year’s theme is “red” and the shirt has the letters r-e-d on the front. The R has a planet on it, a symbol for a song called “Mars.” This planet is also known as the red planet. The star on the E represents various Spanish countries. The song, “Malaguena,” is about bullfighting. The third song, “Moscow 1941,” is represented with a hammer and sickle.
During her presentation, Jacinto said “Moscow 1941” identifies with a moment in history during the World War II, in which the Red Army successfully defended Moscow against the German invasion.
In October 1941, German troops were only 15 miles outside of Moscow, an unfavorable situation for the Soviet Union. Two million people had evacuated Moscow, but Joseph Stalin stayed to rally morale. In November, the Germans launched a new attack on Moscow. The Soviet Army held its ground and brought the Germans to a halt. Stalin insisted on a counterattack and, although his commanders had doubts, they launched their own offensive on Dec. 4. The Germans, caught off guard and demoralized by the recent defeat, were pushed back and began retreating. By January, they had been pushed back nearly 200 miles.
Jacinto said the sickle and hammer were symbols representing Russia, not communism.
Jacinto stressed that neither side is “wrong” in this instance but said this could be a “teachable moment.” She said students should learn history from those who were there.
She said the music came from an approved UIL list of songs and that the band director picks music that is challenging for the band. The band begins practicing in July preparing for the upcoming school year.
Burk said Perez did not purposely and would not purposely offend anyone. She said Perez has worked wonders with the band and has the full support of the band.
Nick Cooper said he and his family discussed the symbols, and although he has family currently in the military, said they were not offended because they understood the meaning behind the symbols.
Kirton said Perez would never maliciously do anything to hurt this school district or this country. He said Perez took a struggling band program to a sweepstakes-winning band.
He, too, stressed that the sickle and hammer are simply symbols representing Russia, not endorsing communism. The hammer and sickle on the Russian flag represented the unity between industrial and agricultural workers. He said the T-shirt is like a costume in a play for UIL competition.
Kirton said he thought our veterans fought for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. He then asked why a few citizens were “dictating” what the band could and could not wear.
He concluded, “I see both sides of the issue but I also know that we, the students, are caught in the middle of this issue. We support Mr. Perez and stand behind him because we know there was no ill intent intended.”
Bassett asked for comments from trustees.
Paul Cockerham said he is a veteran from the cold war period and said he does not take offense to the sickle and hammer because he understands that everything is about symbolism. He added that this might be a good time to teach tolerance.
Mathers said it is important for everyone to know that the board understands exactly what Perez has done for the band program. He said nobody on the board believes Perez did anything wrong and expressed his appreciation for the courage it took the four to speak out.
Larry Eubanks said Perez has been a bright spot for the band program.
Stiles said he has a child in the band program and she did not know what the symbols meant. He congratulated the band students on their intestinal fortitude to speak at the meeting.
Cheryl Owen said that people of her generation were the ones offended because they grew up during the cold war. She said they were afraid of what Russia might do. She said they did drills in preparation of an attack where students got into the coat closet.
She added, however, that Perez is one of the best things that has happened to the school district. She agreed with Jacinto in that this can be a “teaching moment” for students.
Owen said the district cannot move forward with dissention in the community, saying, “This school cannot go forward until we are united.”
Curtis Riddle said he never played in the band; he was an athlete. He said he is a competitor. He said he watched the band play last Friday night and thought it was the best they had ever done. He told the band students gathered at the meeting that he watches the band at halftime rather than visiting as he used to do. He told the band members that he appreciates everything they do for the community.
He said this whole issue has been blown out of proportion but urged the band to “play their socks off” during competition and come back a winner no matter what shirt they are wearing.
Stiles said that the United States has never been in direct conflict with Russia. He also added that the school district did not purchase the T-shirts, but noted the T-shirts were purchased from a UIL-supplied catalog.
He said Perez cannot help but be offended by the complaints. He said Perez is a man who wants all the attention on the students, not on himself.