New Policy Adopted on Children in the Branch: Responses to Your Questions and Concerns

At the open meeting held on 8 February 2011, the board adopted a new policy and guidelines for participation by children in in Branch classes and other activities. This policy and guidelines, now available on the branch web site is based on recommendations presented to a joint meeting of the Branch teachers and board on 9 January 2011 and subsequently shared with the Branch membership, along with a request for feedback.

The board received feedback from a number of Branch members. Most expressed support for the recommendations, but a number of issues and questions were raised. After extensive discussion and research by both the committee and the board, the board is confident that all of these issues have been satisfactorily addressed and we were comfortable moving forward to approve the recommendations with one slight modification. In the interest of allowing the membership to understand the reasoning behind the board’s decision and to feel confident that concerns have been considered and addressed, below is a list of these questions/issues along brief explanations/responses.

Question/Concern: Isn’t this issue important enough that it should be addressed at the AGM, rather than just at a board meeting?
Response/Explantion: The AGM is first and foremost a business meeting.  While it can and should be a forum for issues of interest to the membership as a whole, the timing and format of the meeting does not lend itself to extensive discussions. The board certainly agreed that this issue warranted feedback from the membership, and both the board and the Committee on Children solicited such input multiple times and in multiple ways.  Any member with an interest in discussing the issue was encouraged to attend the open board meeting on February 8th.  Three members opted to do so, and others responded by email or by approaching board or committee members directly.  Should there have been any sense that there were issues or concerns that were not adequately addressed by the end of the February 8th meeting, the board would have been prepared to call a special meeting of the membership.  Note that Recommendation #1, which concerns a change to the minimum age of Branch membership, will be an item on the AGM agenda, since it requires a change to the Branch bylaws.

Q/C: Does there need to be an adult officially responsible for any child present?
R/E: The recommendations of the Committee on Children were ambiguous on this point.  The board decided that  a specific adult should be designated as responsible for any children under 14  who participate in Branch activities.  Age 14 was chosen as a reasonable cut-off based since it is the minimum age for employment in the state of Minnesota.

Q/C: Recommendation #1 was to reduce the minimum age for membership from 16 to 12.  Does this minimum age also apply to the other recommendations? I.e. Does this set a minimum age for participation in Branch activities at 12?
R/E: The 12-and-up rule (should it be approved at the AGM in May) only applies to membership.   Dancers under 12 can still participate under the terms of the policy and guidelines but would either pay $3/class or, if they are part of a household that has Branch members, could possibly be covered by a household membership (though they would still not be members). There is no specific minimum age for participation in Branch activities.

Q/C: Other groups have separate sub-groups for children.  Why don’t we do that?
R/E: The board endorses the Committee on Children’s recommendation that we aim to establish classes and possibly performance opportunities specifically for children.  However, we do not see that as precluding participation by children in our other classes and events, as long as the other guidelines and policies are adhered to.  This is in line with the way many other similar dance groups in the Twin Cities operate, including Minnesota Traditional Morris, Bells of the North Morris, and Tapestry Folkdance Center.

Q/C: Are there potential legal issues, especially if children dancing with us get hurt ?
R/E: No more so than with adults.  Children regularly participate in many groups and activities in the community, including physical activities such as dance classes and sports.  However, for good measure, we consulted with an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who has had training on the legal issues relating to “good Samaritan” acts and public situations similar to Branch classes; Boy Scout leaders and others who deal with children in groups without the children’s parents being present; and the  parents of children, both younger children and teenagers, who were unaffiliated with the Branch.  As far as the specific issue of a medical emergency goes, anyone who provided assistance, whether to a child or an adult, would be protected by the Good Samaritan Act.   We also inquired with Tapestry Folkdance Center, which allows children to participate on a basis very much along the lines of what we are now proposing, as to whether they have encountered any legal  or insurance ramifications we should be aware of.  As long as we are not providing child care, there are no specific concerns related to children.

Q/C: Are non-members (including children) covered by our insurance?
R/E: This issue has come up in other contexts.  A committee appointed by the board in 2008 investigated and determined that participation of non-members does not create any additional liability issues for the Branch or its members.  The non-member him/herself is, however, not protected by our liability insurance, meaning that if they caused damage or injury, they could be held liable (though their own homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, if they have it, would probably cover them).  See the September 2008 issue (part 2) of the Blue Ribbon for more details.

Q/C: What about those who do not want to dance with children? Shouldn’t they be accommodated?
R/E: The committee spent a significant amount of time discussing how to accommodate people who wished to dance in an exclusively adult set.  It recognized that those dancers could arrange informally to do so, for example by recruiting members for their set prior to its assembling on the dance floor, but could not find any good way to formalize such a process. The board observed that there are many potential categories of people whom others may prefer not to dance with for various reasons.  They concluded that it is not reasonable or beneficial to the group to attempt to accommodate such individual preferences in any official way.  The bottom line is that it is up to you who you dance with.

Q/C: The new policy seems to be moving the Branch towards being a “family-oriented” group.  Is that a good idea?
R/E: While the Branch does have a more long-term goal to establish SCD classes and performance opportunities specifically for children, the guidelines explicitly state that children participate in our regular classes and events with the understanding that they are oriented towards adults.  The policy states that no special accommodations will be made for children other than those that would be made for any beginning dancer.

We do not expect these new policies to result in a sudden onslaught of children participating in our regular events.  Considering the relatively late hour at which our Monday night classes are scheduled, it will not be feasible for most children.  We see the new guidelines not so much as making the Branch more child-friendly as making it more parent-friendly; for the most part we expect that children who participate will be the interested children of adult dancers in the group.  Should the number of young participants grow to more than a few, we can start a separate children’s class and/or the board can reassess the policy.

Q/C: Young adults, an age-group we are very much interested in recruiting, might be put off by a group that has a lot of children in it.
R/E: As explained above, we don’t expect there to be a lot of children.  Even so, while some young adults may find it off-putting, others find it appealing.  Some young adults have children of their own.  Some adults find a group that includes children is less intimidating and more inviting.

Q/C: I’m concerned about the recommendation to allow qualified children to perform with the group.  It might not present the right image for certain audiences if children are participating in performances.
R/E: Participation in specific performances other than Renaissance Festival (which is at the discretion of the teachers) is always at the discretion of the FOD (facilitator of the day).

Q/C: I would like to see a requirement for dancers of any age something like “Must have the mass, strength, stamina and focus to safely do an eight hands round and back during the eighth rep of a quick time dance in a set that includes full size adults.” If your arms go flat line, you need to work out some more before you can participate.  I would like for us to focus on physical and mental ability, not age.
R/E: Focusing on physical and mental ability, not age, is exactly what the new policy and guidelines attempt to do.  However, if we adopted the rule suggested above we would probably have to exclude at least half of our current adult participants!  Note that the new policies and guidelines actually hold children to a higher standard than our adult members.

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