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Auburn High School band students protest after new director is hired

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. – Auburn High School will soon have a new band director but that decision is not sitting well with students and parents.

What started with petitions to have the school system reconsider its new hiring decision has now moved to protests.

Band students are sounding off on a decision by Montgomery County Schools to replace the current band director, Janet Longerbeam. 

"These are the needs of the students that are not being attended to. This is more than an issue of who we want as the band director, this is an issue of what we need to have to have a functioning band," said Matthew Neal, a sophomore at Auburn High School.

About a dozen students protested outside the school board office Thursday afternoon, hoping their voices would be heard.

"This will be the fourth band director we've had in five years and it's just very confusing and stressful for a lot of people. It will definitely impact the band," said Holden Trimmer, a junior at Auburn High School.

Longerbeam is a long-term substitute, who has been in the position for about a year. Students said in that time she has helped the band attend a concert assessment for the first time in four years.

"She gets things done but she still really manages to connect with us on a personal level," said Anna Haas, a sophomore at Auburn High School.

Students said Longerbeam has also helped them recover from a year marked by loss.

"We suffered the death of a student and one of the band parents. It's been really rough on all of us, but through all of that, she's been here supporting us," Trimmer said.

Montgomery County Schools considered multiple applicants for the director position, including Longerbeam. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the school system said, "The new band director at Auburn, Mr. Hand, has more than 20 years of experience as a high school band director. His band programs have a history of excellence, including recognition from Virginia Band, Orchestra Directors Association, and the Commonwealth of Virginia Honor Band. His concert and symphonic ensembles have received consecutive superior ratings. His marching bands have been named grand champions in marching band competitions. We are grateful to Mrs. Longerbeam for stepping in as a long-term substitute at Auburn for the last seven months. She has obviously developed positive relationships with the students at Auburn."

Parents said this protest isn't about Hand, it's about students having a part in the process.

"It's not about the new guy. It's about them getting heard, so I came out here to make sure they were heard," said Melissa Yanhko, president of the band boosters.

Parents said they hope the school board will allow the students to at least express their concerns and ask questions at an upcoming board meeting.

The current band director covers both Auburn High School and Auburn Middle School.