The We the People national competition and the Choir trip to Ireland were canceled due to growing concerns of the coronavirus

We the People and the Choir program have both had to cancel their planned trips in recent days due to coronavirus fears.

March 10, 2020

Courtesy of Rose Yeganeh-Kazemi
Ken Thomas, the advisor of We the People, poses with the state championship plaque.

The We the People team will be unable to attend the 2020 National Finals due to the competition’s cancelation, according to an email sent out by Principal Amy Pressly on March 11. The national competition was scheduled to occur in Washington D.C. from April 24-27.

Senior Travis King, a We the People member who was going to attend the national competition, said even though the news hurts for the students, he feels more for We the People Adviser Ken Thomas.

“This really stinks the most for Thomas, because he’s putting so much effort into it,” King said. “He’s put so much money in into We the People in general and I think he really thought that our team had a chance at Nationals. So just to see him disappointed by this is very sad.”

Since competing in person is no longer possible, the Center for Civic Education is looking into holding the national finals virtually.

“The [Center for Civic Education] understands that students have spent countless hours preparing for the events,” Pressly said via email. “For that reason, they have decided to work on an alternative plan which would involve class produced unit video hearings to be evaluated and scored by our National Finals and National Invitational judges.”

We the People won the state competition on Jan. 27 and Pressly said she knows this is not the news the team would want to hear ahead of the national competition.

“I know that this information is not what our seniors want to hear,” Pressly said. “We are so proud of them and all the hard work they have done this year. We are thrilled to call them state champions.”

In addition to the cancelation of the national competition for We the People, the Blue Valley Northwest choir program cancelled its upcoming trip to Ireland scheduled for March 13-21, in response to the growing threat of the coronavirus across the globe,. 

Beth Richey-Sullivan, the choir teacher, sent out an email on March 10 to break the news to her students a few hours after school dismissal, highlighting the factors leading up to the decision.

“Please know I did not arrive to this decision lightly. I came to this decision for all our safety,” Richey-Sullivan said via email. 

Choir director Beth Richey-Sullivan and Director of Chorale Studies at William Jewel College, Anthony Maglione, look at sheet music during second hour Chorale.

The final verdict was made alongside other district and school officials, including Superintendent Todd White, incoming Superintendent Tonya Merrigan, Principal Amy Pressly, the BV staff attorney and the district health advisor, during a meeting after school. The group’s main concern was Richey-Sullivan’s liability and the safety of the students and their chaperones, Richey-Sullivan said in the email.

The trip was not a Blue Valley School District, nor a BVNW-sponsored trip. The district does not sponsor international travel for students. District officials met with Richey-Sullivan to offer guidance, but the decision not to go rested only with her.

Among the number of students who paid and planned to take part in the trip was junior Declan Franey. Franey said such the trip only takes place every four years, inviting any member of the choir to attend. The group sings songs, which they’ve rehearsed at school for many weeks leading up to the event, in various churches and festivals as they travel across the country. 

 Although each student had their own reasons behind their enthusiasm, Franey said he was particularly excited to travel outside of the country after five years, while participating in an activity he enjoys with a group of people he’s grown close with over the past year. 

“My family is also Irish, so I was super excited to get out of the country, and as an artist, experience new things and different ways of life,” Franey said. 

As the coronavirus continued to garner even more media attention, Franey said he and his fellow peers acknowledged a potential cancellation of the trip. Once Richey-Sullivan’s message was sent out, talk of what to do next quickly arose among students. For both Franey and his mom, who planned to accompany him on the trip, the trip cost around $6000, he said. Many of his peers, including Franey himself, discussed using whatever money they received back for educational purposes instead, such as college tours, or other grand trips, including Hawaii and Mexico, he said. 

“Even though it is very sad we cannot go, hopefully we’ll get a good chunk of the money back; obviously not all of it. It still opens up other opportunities for us, and as sad as it is, there are still positives of not going,” Franey said. 

In regards to the decision made by the school officials, Franey said that although he believes the trip could have still happened despite growing concerns of the virus, he also understands the school prioritizing it’s students safety. 

“Since I’m a young person, it wouldn’t affect me that much, and that’s why I’m not super worried about it. I also understand that with something as big as this, it’s so new and we don’t fully understand how much it can impact things and how quickly it can spread to the elderly,” Franey said. 

According to the email from Richey-Sullivan, students will still be able to use their airfare to travel to Ireland as planned, but independent from the school and its associations. MCI, the travel agency used by the BVNW choir program, is also working diligently, she said, to get as much money back as possible from the scheduled land travel. Students whose families purchased insurance can begin claims tomorrow. In addition, the option of rescheduling was also discussed, Richey-Sullivan said in the email, although with the predicted spread of the virus, it may be unlikely. 

“Please know my heart is breaking right along with you. The singers have worked so hard and we have poured so many hours into the preparation. I know that families have made enormous financial sacrifices for this trip as well,” Richey-Sullivan said. “I wish I had a different answer.”

Filed on March 11 at 9:49 p.m.

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