School music teachers, band conductors, and orchestra directors will need something else this fall besides a baton and a whole lot of patience.

They’ll also need a tape measure.

The reason? COVID-19. A student singing or playing a horn can project COVID-infected droplets a much greater distance than would a classmate involved in ordinary conversation.

In fact, in its Health and Safety Guide for the 2021-22 school year/Evanston Skokie District 65 says “CDC protocols … place band students in a high risk category.”

To reduce such risks, the district is taking a number of steps.

In the Guide, District 65 says a minimum of three feet will be maintained between students in music classes — the same as in other courses.

However, the Guide says “when singing (choral) or using brass or woodwind instruments, this distance must be six feet.”

But that’s not all. “Trombone players,” the Guide continues, “must have nine feet of physical distancing.”

Band members practicing at ETHS today.

Masks are mandatory for students and staff in all Illinois schools, and that includes music classes.

Of course, it’s impossible to play a wind instrument while wearing a normal mask, so District 65 says “performance masks fitting the mouthpiece of an instrument will be provided.”

One thing which will not be played in the classroom is a staple of elementary school general music, the recorder. Too COVID-unfriendly.

District 65 also says students who are in the band “may need to participate in the district’s COVID-19 screening program” because of the CDC protocol listing band as a high risk activity.

More information on COVID testing options and procedures will be released soon.

District 65 says classes or activities involving music should be held outdoors whenever possible.

Evanston Township High School does not spell out music-related policies as District 65 does in its’ back to school guide. However, ETHS follows Illinois Department of Public Health policies, which are also reflected in District 65’s regulations.

There is one big difference between the two districts, even if their music policies are similar. Because all high school students are over age 12, they are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. Most students in District 65’s elementary and middle schools, however, are too young for a COVID shot.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.