Montclair Public Schools is one of New Jersey’s most highly-regarded school districts, boasting multiple awards, high achievement, and an average teacher salary (not including benefits) of $73,194. Everyone’s happy, right?
Nope. On January 25th district schools are scheduled to begin implementing a hybrid schedule. On Friday Superintendent Jonathan Ponds wrote to parents, “We continue to prepare our staff and schools for a safe return to in-person, hybrid learning.” This, in fact, is what parents have been asking for: according to a district survey the majority of parents want schools, which have been closed since March, to reopen. There is even a group called “Montclair Families Advocating For In-Person Learning,” or “FAIL,” which has sponsored rallies and petitions.
Here’s a sample of one of FAIL’s petitions that currently has almost 700 signatures:
We represent part of the 64% of parents who chose hybrid/in-person learning for our children. The decision to send our children back to in-person learning comes with thorough evaluation of the benefits and risks, using current data. We believe virtual learning is not in the best interest of our children. Many of our children are suffering and falling behind academically, emotionally and socially during this prolonged ~8 months of fully remote learning. In a town as diverse as Montclair, we also have to consider the widening of the achievement and mental health gap between higher and lower income students. Many families have formed pods, hired tutors and some have even transferred to private schools all in an effort to supplement and or replace virtual learning; however, many families do not have the means to do so and we do not want to see those children falling even further behind.
Yet local teacher union leaders are demanding that schools stay closed. According to a press release issued Friday (see full text below), the president of the Montclair Education Association says, ““[w]e are calling on Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds and the Montclair Board of Education to make the pedagogically sound and the safe decision to continue remote instruction.”
That’s not what parents want to hear. At a rally on December 13th, parents held signs saying, “Get our kids back in school!” and chanted,“What do we want? Schools to reopen! When do we want them to? Now!,” while groups of children shouted “We want back at school! School is really cool!” According to North Jersey, a former teacher with young children said, “virtual kindergarten is a joke…Seventy-five percent of lower elementary school and kindergarten is social-emotional learning. They’re not getting that staring at a screen. They need to be in school with their peers.”
MONTCLAIR EDUCATION ASSOCIATION CALLS TO POSTPONE HYBRID LEARNING
The health, safety, and well-‐‑being of our students, families, staff, and community at large must be our top priority. Over the past week, we have watched the infection rate of COVID-‐‑19 rise with each passing day. As the numbers rise in our community, our members’ confidence in our buildings’ readiness has fallen. There are earnest concerns over the district’s lack of communication and clarity over the decision to go back into the buildings on January 19, 2021.
On November 11, 2020, Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds originally stated in the first Hybrid Announcement, “Unfortunately, the data I received this morning demonstrates an increase in community spread of COVID-‐‑19. It is with a heavy heart that we must continue with fully remote instruction for all students until it is safe to change course. The health of our community, students and staff is paramount and pausing our hybrid plan at this time is in the best interest of public health due to the increase in the rate of infection.”
The rate of infection on the day of the statement, according to COVID Act Now, was 1.14, and averaging 42.8 cases per 100k people. The rate of infection today is 1.15, and the cases per 100k people are 65.4. These numbers have been trending up since the holidays, as expected. With limited people in our school buildings, our schools have been shut down eleven different times, making it difficult to feel safe when increasing the buildings’ populations.
In addition to the numbers increasing daily, the readiness of our buildings presents increased concern for our students, families, and members. Members are apprehensive about last-‐‑minute disseminations of changes and updates and the lack of clear protocols and safety measures.
“We are calling on Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds and the Montclair Board of Education to make the pedagogically sound and the safe decision to continue remote instruction,” said MEA President Petal Robertson. “Our goal is to never be adversarial but instead to always be advocates. Advocates for our staff, educators, students, to not return to buildings until the numbers are mitigated and steady enough for all to do so. It will also allow our district to develop and disseminate an explicit and comprehensive plan for all staff returning, and allay any parent concerns for their student’s safe return.”
The Montclair Education Association is the inclusive union representing more than 1,000 Montclair Public School District employees, including teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, secret ries, operational aides, certified support staff, custodians, and buildings and grounds staff.