Parents question no-touching rule in school choir

Some parents with children at St. Jerome Catholic School say they are upset that a choir class at the school has been stopped thanks to one complaint about the director's hands-on approach.

Some parents with children at St. Jerome Catholic School say they are upset that a choir class at the school has been stopped thanks to one complaint about the director's hands-on approach.

Maestro Uwe Lieflander says he doesn't want to be part of a culture of fear where touching children is not allowed. (CBC)

The Sparrows Choir Program was started in September as a pilot project at four Catholic elementary schools in Ottawa. The instructor, Uwe Lieflander, was told by the school board that he could continue teaching if he avoided any physical contact with the students. Instead, he stepped down.

"My teaching involves a tactile approach," he told CBC News. "I don't want to take part in a growing culture of fear that is creating a very sterile teaching environment."

Parents who spoke with CBC News side with Lieflander, who has taught more than 14,000 kids across Ontario.

Jen Cummings, whose son Ethan enjoyed the choir, said it was heartbreaking for the class to stop.

"He's found ways to demonstrate with touch — which is really taboo, unfortunately — how to get these kids fired up," she said.

The physical contact involves touching the head and sternum to teach proper singing techniques, and playing games of tag to relax the students.

Parent Danny Grimes thinks the board is going too far with its no-touching policy in this case.

"We question the 'no physical contact' because…[for instance] if you're teaching somebody how to swim, surely you're going to keep them afloat," he said.

Cummings said that, for introverted children, the program offers more than just music skills.

"No doubt in my mind that they will miss out on something huge that can impact their future if this [class] doesn't continue," she said.

The school board declined CBC's request for an interview. They said they are still gathering information and don't have a comment at this point.

Parents are hoping to meet with board members this summer to try to persuade them to continue the pilot project in September.