Montclair School staff members and students of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program were surprised to learn that Montclair Public Schools intended to bring ABA students back for in-person learning to Bullock School on October 12, and not the November return date that has been announced as the return date for in person learning.
According to a statement from the Montclair Education Association (MEA), the superintendent and Board of Education failed to respond to their repeated requests for more information. The MEA requested specifically what precautions have been made regarding health and safety.
Montclair Public School District then issued a revised re-entry plan, says the MEA, which continued to be vague about certain procedures and requirements. When pressed for more clarity, the Association’s requests were met with silence. The district then moved the date for re-entry to Friday, October 15.
According to the MEA, the Applied Behavior Analysis program provides services to students identified as special education with the most accommodations needed.
“These students often have severe medical constraints, many are non-verbal, and may be unable to wear masks or other personal protective equipment. The district’s re-entry plan provides students with a specific waiver from the district’s medical team, however the evaluations of whether a student could or could not wear a mask were made by teaching staff,” per the MEA statement.
“What is most alarming, is the decision of the district to begin an in-person instruction re-entry plan with our most vulnerable student population without sufficient planning, training of staff in Covid-19 protocols, or communication,” said Petal Robertson, Montclair Education Association President. “The MEA has presented our concerns to the administration several times and still we have received nothing. Our requests to have our medically fragile and special needs students reevaluated for their IEPs and 504 plans, to accommodate these changes has gone unanswered. Our requests for the safety documentation of the very buildings the Superintendent deemed the ventilation to be inadequate, has gone unanswered. Our request to have the questions and concerns of staff addressed, has gone unanswered.”
Meanwhile, ABA parents tell Baristanet that they have not received answers to their inquiries from Dr. Ponds or the district’s head of Special Education. Parents have also emailed members of the Board of Education and have also not received a response.
“We are not just concerned for our ABA students and teachers but the entire Montclair school district population. School reopening during a pandemic should be done in a series of safe, thoughtful, and collaborative steps that are explicitly communicated to those that are meant to undertake them. It is irresponsible to simply ask parents if they would like to send their child back to return for in-person instruction without being honest and transparent regarding the safety of the school buildings and the effectiveness of the academic plans,” says Robertson.
Parents of ABA students, who have individualized learning programs, say staff had time to create a remote program that reflects these individualized needs. Parents and staff are stating that there needs to be a similar period adequate preparation and collaboration for a transition to in-person learning.
An email to all district parents Friday from Superintendent Ponds states: “We welcomed ABA students to Bullock School on Thursday and Friday. Families and students reported having a positive experience. We are delighted to be able to return our most vulnerable learners to an in-person environment.”
The email caused confusion among ABA parents whose students did not return to in-person learning but continued remote learning with the ABA staff. The MEA confirms that members of the ABA staff, with the full support of the Montclair Education Association, have continued remote instruction with their students. Baristanet has asked for the district for clarification of this statement, but has not received a response.
Parents have also reported inconsistencies with some families receiving a six-page document regarding re-entry to Bullock School and others unaware of any re-entry plan.
In a statement on the MEA Facebook page, the group stands with its ABA staff members:
Our ABA staff has been mandated to return to in-person instruction, without sufficient training, communication of an effective academic plan for all learners, and a building able to support the healthy learning environments needed to teach our students safely. At this point, the members of the ABA staff, with the full support of the Montclair Education Association, have continued remote instruction with their students. We stand in admiration of every single ABA staff member. Your demonstration of solidarity has paved the path for us all. We are ABA.