A Jessamine County school-board member has issued a public apology after her column in a Lexington magazine sparked a firestorm of criticism from the music-education community.
Hallie Bandy, who has completed the second year of her four-year term on the Jessamine County Board of Education, is a regular columnist for Tops in Lex, often abbreviated TOPS. Her piece in the December issue — which she wrote in 2010 for another website — recalled bad memories of middle-school band concerts and celebrated that her son’s decision to drop band meant she would not have to attend any more holiday concerts.
Bandy said in a phone interview Thursday that the column was meant to be humorous and not to offend music programs she said she has “been behind 110 percent” with her children. Two of her children were in band in middle school, and one was in chorus. She said her son’s decision to drop band was related to high-school scheduling and that she was disappointed he could not continue.
“It’s hard not to take it personally when people are so insulted,” she said. “(TOPS) has asked me to write a humor column about family life. I think any time you write humor, you’re going to hit a nerve with somebody, and unfortunately, I think I hit a nerve with a group of people who are already probably underappreciated.”
The column generated enough negative feedback for TOPS to respond publicly on its Facebook page Dec. 22, when magazine staff said they feature Bandy for her “usually light-hearted tone” and apologized that the December column “didn’t resonate with some of you.”
That wasn’t enough for many who were upset, prompting more than 100 comments on the post — nearly all critical of Bandy. Many questioned the appropriateness of the column from a school-board member, and some urged others to complain directly to Bandy, TOPS and Jessamine County school officials. Many criticisms came from high-school and college band directors in central Kentucky and some of their former students.
In a statement TOPS released Thursday morning, Bandy wrote she was “genuinely saddened” readers found her column insulting to arts education, specifically apologizing to music educators who have taught her own children.
Some critics took Bandy’s description of middle-school band concerts in the column as discouraging beginner musicians. She said that was not the intent; in the written statement, she said all artistic outlets had a “beginning, formative phase.”
“I certainly don’t expect the philharmonic,” she said. “It is what it is; they’re all developing; they’re at different levels.”
TOPS president and owner Keith Yarber also responded, writing that TOPS gives freelance writers “fairly wide discretion” and that Bandy’s tone is typically “tongue-in-cheek.” Yarber acknowledged a literal reading of Bandy’s column could be taken as “hurtful to the music community.”
Yarber closed his statement by saying the experience should be a reminder of the importance of music education and educators who are “over-worked and under-paid for what they do.”
Jessamine County superintendent Lu Young said she received a total of nine email complaints about the column, five from inside Jessamine County and the first coming from an arts teacher in the district. She called the response “understandable but unfortunate.”
“I know Hallie and have had many, many conversations about the arts with her, and I’ve also read lots of her columns,” Young said. “I could sense the tongue-in-cheek nature of it, but I also know reading it objectively that it could have been very upsetting to some arts teachers, especially those locally who may have thought she was talking about their program.”
Young said Bandy was part of a board that supports arts programs through “bonus” spots in the staffing formula for specials teachers, allocations to purchase new instruments and travel expenses for state-judged performances.
Bandy said she would not resign her position on the board and hoped to continue what she called “a strong record of supporting music.”
“The people who are calling for that are assuming that I have a negative opinion of the arts,” she said. “I’ve been very consistent in voting for anything that comes up that is arts. I exchanged emails last year with one of the band directors about trying to get additional blocks at the high schools so there’s a better chance of having a good band program.”
The January issue of TOPS has already gone to press; Bandy said her column in that edition would probably not cause a lot of controversy — the topic is children vomiting. Yarber wrote that the February issue would include a full page for a response to the column.
Bandy said she would keep writing for TOPS “as long as they ask me to.”
“Hindsight is 20/20, and maybe I shouldn’t have run this one again,” she said. “I wear a lot of hats: I’m a mom; I’m a Realtor; I’m a board member. I’m very careful to write so my kids aren’t embarrassed — I could write a lot more if I was willing to embarrass my kids publicly. ... On the other hand, I think I have such a strong record of supporting music with my kids and professionally, as well, I just never anticipated that it would be interpreted as an insult to that community; it certainly wasn’t intended as that.”
Young said the district cannot restrict the opinions of individual board members who are not necessarily writing or speaking on behalf of the board.
“We would be very careful about any publication that was actually representative of the Jessamine County Board of Education,” Young said. “We work with our communications team to develop those pieces ... in those cases, since it’s signed by the Jessamine County Board of Education, it’s an official representation of the collective opinion of the board, not of an individual. She certainly has the right to continue her column and share her thoughts and opinions as a parent and a writer.”
Bandy came under public scrutiny earlier in the year when she questioned the cost of a spring-break trip for the West Jessamine High School baseball team at a work session in October. She later said her use of the term “funny math” had been misunderstood, and she was part of a unanimous vote to approve the trip Oct. 22.
The column is on page 90 of the December issue of TOPS, viewable at www.topsinlex.com.
Statement from TOPS
From TOPS President and Owner, Keith Yarber:
Thank you for taking the time to write to us about Hallie Bandy's article in the December issue of TOPS. It is safe to say we have gotten more response to that article than any other in our company's young history.
TOPS magazine and website were founded on helping to promote non profits, arts and entertainment in Lexington and Central Kentucky. To date, we have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in publicity and promotion to many groups who otherwise struggle to be heard, and we will continue to do so.
I am a band parent. My daughter proudly plays in one of the most talented middle school programs I have ever heard. I am also a former band student and drum major. Some of my best memories of middle and high school were marching band, concert band and jazz band. I know first hand the dedication and sacrifices those associated with music programs make to teach their students. When my father suddenly passed away when I was in the sixth grade, it was my band director who stepped up and became my mentor during a very difficult time. I credit much of whatever success I have had to him.
Our magazine contracts with many independent freelance writers such as Ms. Bandy. We do give them fairly wide discretion as to what they write. Typically, Ms. Bandy's articles have been written in a tongue-in-cheek humorous style. Having read all of her previous columns, she would remind one of an "Erma Bombeck" style of writing.
Her article in December has elicited many responses from the music community. I don't believe her article was intended to be hurtful to the music community, although a literal reading of her words could be taken as such.
Today is my first day back in the office due to holiday and illness. We have read every email and Facebook post. We are constantly striving to make our magazine better every day to serve our local community, and your feedback helps make that possible.
In our February issue, we are dedicating space for the outstanding achievement of the Lafayette Marching Band for the Tournament of Roses Parade, which has been planned since their announcement. We will also dedicate a full page for a response to Ms. Bandy's article.
So thank you for all you do to support music education in Kentucky. We have asked Ms. Bandy to write a response to all of you (see below). If there is any good that can come of this learning experience, it is to remind us all about the importance of music education, and music educators who are over-worked and under-paid for what they do.
Thank you and Happy New Year,
TOP Marketing Group
From Hallie Bandy:
"I am genuinely saddened so many found my recent article in TOPS insulting to arts education. It was certainly never intended as such, and I am so very sorry many interpreted it in that light. I especially want to apologize to music educators who were offended by the content, particularly those who have taught my own children.
My column is a humorous, light-hearted look at family life.
Our children are so fortunate to have opportunities to explore their various gifts, talents and passions through public and private groups. No matter the outlet – music, dance, athletics – there is beginning, formative phase. As parents, we encourage practice and dedication, but never expect perfection. I believe we are best to embrace their inevitable deficiencies lightheartedly and encourage them to continue.
Those who know me will confirm my lifelong support of arts education, both personally and professionally. My children were blessed with incredibly gifted band directors while they were in the programs at our middle school and their involvement in that program was an invaluable part of their education. They were not able to continue their involvement in band due to scheduling, which has been a disappointment.
I hope so many of you who are passionate about arts education will join me, your own local school board and school councils in supporting our local schools’ efforts to retain music education despite inevitable budget cuts."