Retired Fayette teacher appeals decision to cut chorus at the school where he taught

A retired teacher upset about the elimination of chorus at Lexington’s Morton Middle School said he is taking his appeal to the Fayette County Public Schools board.

It will be the second round of such deliberations for the school board. On May 13, the board denied the appeal of a parent against the elimination of art courses at Cassidy Elementary School. The school council and superintendent made previous denials.

Cassidy and Morton sit side-by-side on Tates Creek Road in one of Lexington’s high-end neighborhoods. Cassidy received the highest possible rating in Kentucky’s school accountability system in 2022-2023, and Morton, the second-highest.

The elimination of the courses at the two schools have led to criticism resulting in community initiatives to help mitigate the losses.

After retired Morton teacher Mark Russell appealed the Morton decision making council’s elimination of chorus, he received a letter May 21 from Fayette schools chief legal officer Shelley Chatfield saying his appeal had been denied.

Chatfield said in the letter — which Russell provided to the Herald-Leader — that under district policies and procedures, an appeal of a school council decision has to be made within 10 days. In this case, Morton’s council made the decision on March 18. Chatfield’s letter indicated that Russell did not make the appeal in time.

Russell said he appealed the Morton school council’s decision to Superintendent Demetrus Liggins one week before his appeal was denied.

On Wednesday, Russell told the Herald-Leader he is appealing to the school board because the school district cannot offer “a world-class education” when school councils are allowed to cut programs such as art and chorus.

‘This decision is forcing some parents to seek education in these areas in private schools,” said Russell. “ In sum, I want Superintendent Liggins to stand behind the promise of a world-class education for all students. Art and chorus should not be viewed as courses that can be cut at will, but rather as indispensable to the education of all FCPS students.”

In response to Russell saying he would appeal to the School Board, district spokesperson Dia Davidson-Smith said Wednesday, “The board has not heard the appeal of Mark Russell, therefore there is no official statement from them.”

Earlier in May, the School Board approved a tentative $801.8 million budget.

Davidson-Smith has previously said the district has not cut its budget.

She said student enrollment numbers and projections directly impact the staffing allocation made for each school. If the student enrollment number goes up, the staffing allocation also goes up. If that student enrollment number goes down, so does the staffing allocations. School decision-making councils make decisions about staffing allocations.

Free lessons offered

Local musician David McLean is offering students free guitar lessons as a result of the cuts “because arts education of all kinds is absolutely crucial.”

“I’m not arrogant enough to think that offering free lessons actually solves the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m hoping other instructors — art, dance, theater, music, literature — will maybe join me by I offering free workshops or clinics or classes. Maybe that will ‘peer pressure’ those in charge of budgets to fix the problem,” McLean said.

“Clearly the arts are woven into being human. Given that, the idea of cutting arts education seems nothing short of ridiculous,” he said.