EAST NEW YORK — Members of a well-known Brooklyn marching band arrived at their school’s practice room in November to find the doors locked.
East New York’s Soul Tigers Marching Band space at J.H.S. 292 had had its locks changed, leaders said. They later found out they'd be allowed in just four days a week — a reduction from six — and their uniforms and instruments were locked inside.
The change had been made by interim acting principal, Evelyn Maxfield, band director Kenyatte Hughes said.
Community residents, band members and parents rallied in front of the Vermont Street school Wednesday to protest the program cuts.
Aside from practice time, the restriction has put a limit on the band’s performances since members are not allowed to retrieve their gear.
Since the change, students have had to undress on buses and leave drums and cymbals at participants' houses after events, Hughes told DNAinfo New York.
“We have no community centers and for a program like ours, with the caliber of performance that we do, the educational and cultural activities we do, to be pushed out of a public school doesn’t make any sense,” Hughes said. “It’s not like the kids have a plethora of other programs that they can go to.”
Soul Tigers serves more than 60 students from J.H.S. 292 and UFT Charter School, which shares a building with the intermediate school.
The independent band has been in the space for more than 13 years, operating without funding from the school and receiving assistance from performance payments and elected officials such as Councilwoman Inez Barron.
The group has appeared in an ad for Tommy Hilfiger and performed at several citywide events including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Arthur Ashe Kids' Day.
The space Soul Tigers has used at the school has been under contention for a number of years, according to Hughes, due to a demand from the charter school that utilizes the classrooms. In 2013, the band lost the office space they previously held for more than a decade.
Limited seating also raises concern for band teachers and parents. Fewer than 20 chairs are available for the 60 students that attend practice, leaving many to do homework on floor, Hughes said. The room is not in use during the school day, he added.
J.H.S. 292’s principal declined to speak about the recent changes, and representatives from the Department of Education did not immediately respond for comment.
Hughes has met twice with the superintendent and school officials but hasn’t seen any improvement, he said.
During Wednesday’s rally, students and band members ranging from first grade through college called for an end to the constraints.
Participants wore shirts reading “Black lives matter” as they danced and drummed across from the school.
“I came out here for justice,” said Andrew Duhaney, 21. “In the neighborhood itself, a lot of things go down. If I didn’t have band, I most likely would have got caught up in it. The less days the kids are not doing something and experiencing something new, the more time for them to idle around and get themselves into trouble.”
Duhaney, a current band member and percussion instructor, joined the Soul Tigers when he was in the sixth grade and returned year after year.
Other directors from area marching bands joined the protest to denounce what they call a “systemic issue” and to emphasize the pathway to college scholarships band involvement has provided for past students.
Osei Smith, director for East New York’s Royal Knights, said their band was kicked out of their space at J.H.S. 166 last year. School administrators did not provide a reason, he added.
The band lost its instruments and uniforms and had to start from scratch at a local center.
“This is a setup to get them ready to fail,” said Sergio Carter, director for the Approaching Storm Marching Band. “You take from our kids and leave them with a whole lot of streets to go to.”