RIVIERA BEACH — Amaris Graham will not have to quit the Suncoast High School marching band in her upcoming senior year.
The School Board of Palm Beach County voted unanimously on June 19 to allow the 17-year-old and a handful of other students to be grandfathered into a band program in which a vague policy existed regarding students who attend one school but take part in extracurricular activities at another school.
Amaris and eight other students known as the “Suncoast Nine” were suddenly expelled from the school’s predominantly black marching band last fall on grounds that they were ineligible. Amaris attends Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, a magnet school in West Palm Beach which has no marching band so she joined the drill team at Suncoast High in Riviera Beach. At the time, a spokeswoman for the district said Suncoast High found out the students were ineligible and had acted on the information.
“We were doing something positive. We had to audition for this part. Nothing was given to us. And they just took us out. It was so abrupt. We weren’t doing anything wrong,” Amaris said at the time.
Tracey Graham, Amaris mother, said she couldn’t just sit back and watch the students being forced out of their beloved school activity. Graham, 47, staged a protest, which garnered news media coverage, and she believes her action stunned school board members. The students were reinstated in the band following a closed-door meeting of the district’s Student Services Committee comprising representatives of various departments. On the agenda was the policy regarding home and charter school students and their extracurricular activities and its implementation regarding the nine students, according to spokeswoman Vickie Middlebrooks.
The meeting took place on a Friday, the day of Suncoast High’s homecoming game. The reinstated students were able to take part in the show.
At the time, the district said the students will be allowed to stay in the Suncoast High band for the remainder of the year while the policy is reviewed for clarity for the 2013-14 school year. School district policy states that charter school students can take part in extracurricular activities at their home school if their “choice” school does not offer those activities. The policy does not address magnet schools.
When the school board revisited the subject at its June 19 meeting, Amaris and Graham were put on the agenda and allowed to speak. Graham argued that the board would be breaking up a family unit and it was not fair to the students. “We wanted them to keep these students in because when you remove them, you’re tearing apart a family unit,” Graham said. “We wanted them grandfathered in.”
School district spokesperson Jason Shockley said the board agreed with Graham and unanimously voted to allow the students to be grandfathered into their band program.
“It was in the best interest of the students,” Shockley said. “It would not be fair to the students to uproot them now.”
Shockley said the board still has not come up with a definitive policy. “The hope is that it gets done before the (new) school year but there is no set date,” he said.
*Photo of Amaris Graham