Supporters of Johnstown band leader plan protest parade

Supporters of ousted high school marching band director Daniel Jones have gotten city approval for a

Supporters of ousted high school marching band director Daniel Jones have gotten city approval for a downtown parade in support of his reinstatement.

The Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education removed Jones from his positions as high school marching band director, winter color guard director and jazz band director July 25 without explanation. Jones remains a full-time music teacher with the district.

Ephratah resident Bonnie Steenburgh said she is one of the organizers of the protest parade. She said her children have already graduated from Johnstown High School, but the lasting, positive impact of its extracurricular music program on the life of one of her daughters influenced her to help organize the parade.

“We stepped in to help organize this march to support our community children. They’re very upset about this. They’re passionate about their extracurricular programs, and they’re passionate about their directors,” she said.

Jones did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.

Steenburgh said she doesn’t know why the board chose to remove Jones, but she finds it peculiar that whatever the reason was, it hasn’t risen to the level of threatening his job as a teacher.

Since Jones’ removal, school board officials have stated that they are examining whether the district’s wind ensemble was truly invited to play at Carnegie Hall Feb. 10 or whether it paid for the opportunity to play. School board members have not directly linked Jones to the Carnegie Hall issue, but some have said they were misled about the nature of the trip prior to approving it.

The parade is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday. The parade route starts at the Johnstown Area Community Center on Prindle Avenue and proceeds up West Main Street to the Sir William Johnson Park bandshell. According to organizers, the event will feature Johnstown High’s jazz band performing on a float and may feature members of the high school’s marching band playing with donated instruments.

Karen Coppola, organizer of the annual Johnstown Holiday Parade, said she helped the Jones supporters organize the parade and apply for the proper permits.

“It’s basically for the kids and what they believe in. I’ve always had a really big heart for kids, and it’s just heartbreaking when I see what these kids are going through,” she said.

According to the district’s Web site, the summer marching band program is “currently in transition; therefore, practices scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays are canceled until further notice.”

A news release Thursday billed Tuesday’s event as a “rally/parade/block party” that will include movies of student musical performances, guest speakers, letter writing and petition tables, food, armbands and ribbons.

Mayor Sarah Slingerland said she isn’t sure if an official rally of this type has ever been conducted in the city’s long history. She said nothing like it has occurred during her tenure as mayor or a councilwoman.

“All people have the right of assembly, and they have met the requirements of the permitting system,” Slingerland said. “I think this is really a rally in support of Mr. Jones, but as mayor, I’m not really involved in that piece of it. As mayor, I have to make sure there is a process in place for people to have these types of things if they meet the requirements of the permitting system.”

Christine VanValkenburgh, who said she is employed as a teacher’s aide at Warren Street Elementary School and has worked as an adviser for the color guard, wrote the Thursday news release that explained the group’s position. According to the release, Jones’ supporters believe he was issued a letter of counsel from the district expressing school board concerns over his handling of the extracurricular programs approximately three hours prior to when the board removed him. She said Jones responded to the letter of counsel in writing Wednesday.

The Daily Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Law request on Thursday to verify the existence and content of both letters.

VanValkenburgh said Jones’ removal has, for all practical purposes, shut down the extracurricular programs he was involved in. She said the programs over Jones’ 15-year tenure had become “lax” in some respects, but he wasn’t given time to address the school board’s concerns. She said that previously, as an adviser to the color guard, she had not been required to go before the school board for approval, but she has been informed she will have to if she applies again. She said that without Jones, she doesn’t think the programs will work, even with more structure from the school board.

“In all honesty, this is such a specialized, precise thing that we do, not just anybody is going to be able to jump into this position. They just don’t understand what they’ve done,” she said in reference to the color guard. “[Superintendent Katherine] Sullivan has told the marching band they could have practice tomorrow if somebody would step up to the plate and take over. She has no clue what that means. The kids are brokenhearted, and they want him back.”

Sullivan could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Jones’ supporters have vowed to attend the Aug. 13 school board meeting and demand his reinstatement.

School Board President Robert Curtis could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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