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Band Plays the Blues After Its Appearance at Reagan Rally Is Forbidden

Times Staff Writer

The 27 band students at Crawford High School were thrilled Monday when they learned that the White House had selected them to play today at a Sports Arena campaign rally featuring President Reagan.

But their joy at the chance to see the President turned to keen disappointment Tuesday afternoon when they learned that a San Diego Unified School District policy--adopted since the 1984 election--prohibits appearances by school groups at partisan events such as campaign rallies for political office.

The bad news also disheartened Crawford administrators, who are still reeling from news reports about ethnic tension on campus between Indochinese and black students touched off by a drive-by shooting near the East San Diego campus Oct. 19. They had been unaware of the policy until a television station called Supt. Tom Payzant Tuesday morning and asked about Crawford’s participation.

A similar policy in the Grossmont Union High District resulted in El Cajon Valley High School on Monday turning down an invitation to play.

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But bands from Poway High School and from Castle Park High School in Chula Vista will be out in force at the Sports Arena rally this afternoon, as the public school districts in their areas have no set policies concerning such appearances. The invitations were telephoned by White House rally planners to schools selected from a list of school bands provided by local Republican Party officials.

“This is the President coming, and when the President calls, regardless of which party, we go,” said a spokeswoman in the instructional services office of the Poway Unified School District. The 340-member Poway High band, the county’s largest, will present its instruments at 9 this morning for security inspection by Secret Service agents and will continue rehearsing “Hail to the Chief” under band director Marc Davis.

Sweetwater Union High District spokeswoman Mary Anne Stro said there is no set policy for its South Bay schools, which include Castle Park.

“Our thinking here is that our band, which is a sweepstakes-winning band, was especially invited by the White House, and we feel it would be a good experience for the students to go,” Stro said. “But we as a district will not pay for bus transportation and the school itself will have to pay through student funds or the district foundation or monies raised by the band.” The Castle Park band will play the national anthem at the rally.

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The San Diego district policy was changed after the Board of Education received complaints about the Point Loma High School band performing in Fashion Valley at a November, 1984, rally for President Reagan.

The Point Loma band participated without the knowledge of then-Principal Jim Gauntlett, who said Wednesday he probably would have denied permission at the time. “In the religious and political realm, you have to be careful to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Gauntlett said.

“I don’t remember who complained, but as soon as we received questions, we sought legal advice and reacted,” board member Kay Davis recalled Wednesday. The new policy prohibits participation in events “for furtherance of any politically partisan interests, including campaign rallies for candidates running for office,” District Attorney Melanie Petersen said Wednesday.

Payzant said today’s event “is clearly a function billed as a political rally for the Bush campaign. If it were clear that the President was coming only as the President of the United States, that would put a different cast on things.”

Nevertheless, Crawford Principal Nancy Shelburne broke the news to a somber group of musicians who were rehearsing for the event.

“One student said she understood that it is important who will be the next President, but that Reagan is the President and she wanted to see the President,” Shelburne said.


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