On Monday, Watertown parents pleaded with the School Committee to again allow their children to be taught by private music instructors on school property. This practice was stopped this year after school officials learned they were occurring on campus without any supervision or background checks on the teachers.
For years, parents who wanted extra music instruction for their children have arranged to have private instructors - who do not work for the Watertown Schools - come and teach their students in the music room at Watertown Middle School.
The private lessons helped students master an instrument and prepare for competitive situations such as the District and All State bands, orchestra and chorus. Losing this option was a big blow, said Sarah Ryan, parent and member of Friends of Watertown Music.
"I am concerned with the change of policy on after school music lessons," Ryan said. "Parents suddenly had to scramble when they thought they had instruction at school, and now they don't."
The district has also lost some in-school music programs over the past few years, some of which have been restored.
Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said she did not even know this was going on at the Middle School, and said she could not allow it for a few reasons, including liability and safety. She noted that none of the private teachers had a background check done on them by the district, and they were teaching children without any supervision.
"I don't want to prevent your children from having music lessons, but my job is to watch out not only for your children but also the district," Fitzgerald said. "To have an adult in a room teaching, and no one knows about it - we can't have that in our schools."
Alice Holt, who has students at the middle school and high school, said parents had an arrangement for affordable lessons from specialized teachers.
"Lessons cost $75 an hour at a music school and $60 for non-institutional lessons, but in Watertown we were paying $48 last year," Holt said. "It was much discounted and a big service for families of Watertown."
In addition, the instructors were flexible about fitting lessons into parents' and students' schedules, Holt said.
Fitzgerald said she hopes to bring back a similar program, but it would be run through the district's Continuing Education program. The teachers will have to apply, pass a background check and be paid on the scale of other teachers - $30 an hour. That amount is negotiated with the Watertown Educators Association - the teachers union, she said.
Another concern is the private teachers were using the school facilities free of charge, said School Committee Chairman Eileen Hsu-Balzer.
"There are a lot of groups who would like access to your students," Hsu-Balzer said. "Whatever decision we make will apply to other groups, too. We can't not make ad hoc decisions."
School Committee Vice Chairman John Portz said he had more questions, but recommended that a more full discussion be held at a future meeting.
The next regular School Committee meeting will be held Wednesday, Nov., 7 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. It was moved from the regular Monday night due to the presidential election.