Editor’s note: The intersections of art and education are often overlooked. The Seattle Times will periodically publish pieces by young people in Washington state about their perspectives on these subjects.

In 2021 it took Seattle Public Schools nearly six months longer to permit live performances than athletic events. Heading into a new school year, I’m worried that rising cases of COVID-19 could derail student performers again.

When I came back to school in-person last fall, I carried with me the pent-up energy of a year and a half of pandemic-induced isolation and fear. I joined the Ingraham High School swim team that August, and the 6 a.m. practices were worth it for the opportunity to safely expel the physical symptoms of my emotions. In September, I rejoiced in returning to my choir and drama classes where I thought I would have the chance to take the suffocating tension coiled around my soul and use it to fuel the creation of something beautiful.

That’s not what happened.

My routine for those first two months of school was fairly straightforward. In the mornings I went to swim practice. We masked on the pool deck and in the locker rooms, but unmasked in the water by necessity. We had our temperatures checked every day, but we had no COVID testing or vaccination requirements for practices or meets. After practice I went to school, giving my all to daily rehearsals for a play that I didn’t know if we would ever perform.

While school athletics had been functioning fairly smoothly since the spring, and state and health department guidelines emphasized the safety and the necessity of allowing the performing arts to continue, it took until the last week of October for any sort of assembly or indoor gathering to be allowed on Seattle Public Schools grounds. It felt as though the district had forgotten performing arts students existed. Effectively, they banned concerts, plays, recitals — any culminating presentation of the skills students work hard to develop in a performing arts class. 

“When the district tells us we can’t [hold live performances even with safety measures in place], and then the students watch people go into basketball games to cheer, or they see students at the football games unmasked and people coming in from the community to celebrate those students and appreciate the work that they’re doing, I think it’s hurtful and I think it’s harmful,” said Ingraham High School orchestra and drama teacher Heidi Oveson. “It not only hurts the students who are involved in the arts, but it impacts how the arts are perceived at the school and the future of those arts moving forward. Because the value has already been laid out on the table by the school district of what we want to fight for and what we don’t feel is worth fighting for.”


Last school year, performing arts students were constantly and intimately aware of the possibility of our support systems being ripped away from us. It had already happened once. The lack of consistency or transparency in SPS decision-making meant we had no reason to trust that the administration would prioritize our needs if it happened again. Even after the performance ban was lifted, as long as there was a chance we might have to experience that loss with no warning or clear support, we were unable to find the space we needed to heal. 

The arts are a place of comfort, a place of expression, and a place of healing. As Forefront in the Schools suicide prevention program manager Megan Reibel told me, “Connection is like the antidote to isolation, right? And performing arts gives folks so many different ways to be connected.” 

As new COVID variants arise, the district is unable to guarantee that the show will always go on. Administrators are not in control of the state of the world any more than students are. But the lack of value placed on the performing arts relative to other school programs has been profoundly damaging. Going forward, that needs to change.

As I started looking into these policies last October, my ask of Seattle Public Schools in the beginning was simple: Let students perform, in any manner at all. Please. 

Then, before this article ever got off the ground, they did. I struggled for a long time after that looking for some grand point to make; after all, I got what I wanted. Why was it important to finish this story?

It took me months of research and interviews to understand: Even if it was possible to point to the moment where things went wrong and tell everyone what the right decision would have been, it wouldn’t matter. The damage had already been done. 


Seattle Public Schools Visual and Performing Arts Manager Gail Sehlhorst told me, “I feel really bad that students had to sit in that space of discomfort and unknowing. And that educators had to be in that space, too. It can build a lack of trust between the learner and the educator and the system.”

That lack of trust is the reason that performing arts students are still feeling the impacts of these decisions a year later. That lack of trust is why, with new COVID variants and other diseases like monkeypox on the rise, we are going into the new school year with fear rather than excitement. 

I know that certain restrictions were important and necessary for the health and safety of our community. But there is no excuse for making any student’s needs feel like an afterthought.

What I ask for now is consideration from administrators of the damaging impact that these policies and decisions have had on students. I am 17 years old. Many of my friends are younger. We are children. These past few years have been incredibly hard. All of us are hurting. All of us deserve to have that hurt acknowledged. All of us deserve a stable place to heal, whether that space be athletics, academics, arts, or something else entirely.

We didn’t all get that last year. But going forward this fall, with the future still uncertain, performing arts students are asking SPS to see us. Value us. Care enough to want to rebuild the trust you lost from us last year. And show us that through your actions. Move policy regarding the arts forward on a comparable timeline to policy regarding similar programs. Be transparent in the motivating factors of your decisions. Reach out to students directly about what we most need from you right now. Work with us to develop next steps and solutions that you alone can’t find.

This essay was written for The Seattle Times through the TeenTix Press Corps, a teen arts journalism program sponsored by TeenTix (teentix.org), a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit organization.