Parents, Teachers Express Concerns About COVID-19 Safety, Lack of Information at Montclair BOE Meeting

Montclair Public Schools maintain they plan to resume in-person learning with a hybrid plan in November but parents and staff who spoke at Monday’s virtual Board of Education meeting were clearly not confident in the district’s plan and called for greater transparency and details.

The meeting opened with presentations on the survey sent to parents, asking them again to choose either a hybrid or remote learning option for their students (the survey was a follow up to an initial survey in the summer). As of Monday, the district had received a total of 3,601 responses and was awaiting responses from 2,761 students/families.

The data the district had as of Monday showed that overall 64% families who responded are requesting hybrid learning 36%, approximately 1,281 families are requesting virtual. There was variability at different schools, with Renaissance School coming in at 49% (hybrid) and 51% (virtual). Parents had until Thursday to complete the survey; students of parents who do not complete the survey will remain fully remote.

Survey results as of Monday, October 19, show some 2,761 families had yet to submit a completed survey.

Dr. Ponds also stated he had enough personnel to meet the needs of both in person and remote learning students in the district. Ponds said the district was in possession of 200 air purification systems and was seeking another 200 to be approved later in the meeting.

“Our whole intent and goal in everything we are doing is to address everyone’s needs in our community. And we understand this and we also respect people’s opinions and what they want. We’re going to help everyone. All we ask is, sometimes you may disagree, but let’s not be disagreeable. Let’s find a way to help everyone without, being upset with each other,” said Dr. Ponds.

Dr. Ponds at the Monday, October 19 BOE meeting

However, teachers and parents alike were upset, and many voiced their frustration with the superintendent.

“Dr. Ponds, you have refused to share information about the ventilation of the buildings with teachers,” said Judith Grodner, a Spanish teacher at Bradford Elementary School.

“You have refused to detail the work that has been done in the schools to remediate the issues you identified. You refused to even explain to us what those issues were upon deciding to begin school fully remotely. You ceased to include teachers in the development of a hybrid plan and altered important aspects of the hybrid plan that had been developed over the summer with teacher input. When confronted with the serious and reasonable concerns of the teachers and paraprofessionals working in the ABA program, you offered no willingness to discuss or amend your plan to return special education students to buildings. Let me be clear. I fully support a safe and sustainable return to in-person instruction, but teachers must be part of the conversation. If we are to do our jobs safely and effectively in a way that maintains academic integrity and physical and mental health.”

Andrew Gideon, a parent in the district, raised the issue of longstanding communication problems in the district.

“For some reason, documents such as our Restart Recovery Plan and Return to School Plan seem far more sparse and vague than the equivalent materials from other districts,” said Gideon. “I want to ask that the people in charge of our district consider why this is the case. We need those details.”

“We’ve also heard this evening about a lack of communication between the administration and the teachers regarding these plans,” Gideon continued. “Some of our older students are also telling us that apparently they’re being dissuaded from shifting to hybrid by the teachers with whom they are working remotely. I believe there needs to be more communication from the district about the communication that is occurring amongst the staff and what communication should be occurring with students.”

Regarding the air purifiers, Gideon said it wasn’t clear whether they can be used only where preexisting mechanical ventilation systems exist, or if they can also be used where only natural ventilation exists. With regard to mechanical ventilation, Gideon asked that parents be given details about which schools have or lack this.

“This is the kind of detail that will help families make informed choices between hybrid and remote. If I’m making that choice, I would like to know what type of ventilation exists in the classrooms into which I will or won’t be sending my children,” Gideon concluded.

Other parents were critical of the 12-page Return to School plan, that accompanied the survey, stating they could not make a decision on hybrid or remote learning based on the lack of information in the plan. They also cited other districts such as West Orange that offered more clear communication and more details.

Parents expressed a lack of confidence in adequate ventilation and air flow, and that it appeared the district was relying solely on opening windows and keeping dampers open. There were also questions about where air purifiers would be placed and whether there were enough to have in every classroom in the district.

“What will circulate the air so there is impactful air flow into and out of a room. You need a supply system and exhaust system for that to take place. And I don’t believe there’s an exhaust system in most rooms or an exhaust process,” asked Suzanne Aptman. “Will this method meet or exceed the minimum Astra guidance of 15 cube, cubic feet per minute, per person of airflow? If you’re relying on windows, is it safe to leave windows open? As of last year, it was not safe to do that. Also, won’t it get freezing.”

“Will air purifiers be in every room with students or just where windows cannot be opened,” Aptman continued. “Will these air purifiers filter down to the size of a COVID particle? And will they be strong enough? If a student is standing next to somebody with COVID, will these purifiers be able to address the virus in the moment or will there be a gap in time and distance that’s too great to be effective?”

In the end, Dr. Ponds offered few specific answers to questions raised by parents. There was also no response to the issues raised by teachers regarding safety concerns and calls for communication, by Dr. Ponds or the BOE members.

Survey results as of Monday, October 19,

According to a member of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) parents group, Mayor Sean Spiller, along with Councilor Peter Yacobellis, reached out to Dr. Ponds and the BOE and as a result the Special Ed ABA teachers would not go on leave, as they had shared they would do rather than teach in person at the Bullock School as they had been instructed to do last Thursday. As a result, ABA remote education has been allowed to continue.

Baristanet Local Offers

View More

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Some people say follow the science.
    Republicans say we’ve turned the corner.
    The psychopath Giuliani is playing footsie with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm without a mask. Pretty funny.

    PS: Do we have any graduates from Michigan in Montclair? If so, are you sitting this one out?

    The Montclair Public School District?
    They offer a survey to whether we should follow the science or not. Fair question. I vote for the “or not”. Let’s see how many people get infected. We can set up bean jars to represent potential infections and people can guess for dollar. All revenue goes to eliminating geese on the Renaissance School property.

    Seriously? We’ are following a consumer survey to decide who dies or not? Actually, it works for me. Playing God was a lot of work. This is much easier. It eliminates any recriminations down the road.

    I have consistently said this town wasn’t the brightest light in NJ. Do you know how many Ivy League graduate live among us? Do you know how many MHS graduates are going on to Ivy League schools? There is a point where you just have to day education can’t overcome certain things. So, we just survey people. I love it.

    PS: Are there any graduates from U of Michigan in this town? If so, are you just sitting this one out? Or, maybe you all live in Glen Ridge.

  2. I have a great idea! Let’s have the Montclair Public School District do a tie-in with hybrid learning and advancing the Aging In Montclair public policy. We could have elementary students sign up as pen pals to seniors throughout town. I would think the commitment would be for a semester at most.

  3. “Some of our older students are also telling us that apparently they’re being dissuaded from shifting to hybrid by the teachers with whom they are working remotely.“

    Really !?

  4. Does anyone know or has it been reported how many current working staff members have tested positive in the entire district? And if so, which schools and numbers within the schools and CO?
    I know Newark staff members must have a negative test to enter a classroom with children. Is Montclair doing that as well? If so who can see those results and if not why not?

  5. A lot of Montclair families would apparently like to send their children to school under the hybrid model. The district could do a better of job of communicating, but I also know the administration’s ability to communicate some details in public is very limited by contract and legal restrictions. Which the teachers and MEA are not. So it seems pretty one-sided. I am a little troubled by the undue influence of the teacher’s union in this town. There are many places where K-12 kids are attending schools in person and the results are not terrible. (College students are a different animal.) I don’t have a magic ball or a medical degree, and I don’t know how it’s all going to come out (or should come out). I just know the unions have a PR machine and a tight grip on this town (Hi Mr. Mayor), and it makes me nervous…

  6. @tidegirl2 One at a time here. Yes, the district could and should do a better job of communicating. However, I’m not clear on what you are referring to by “limited by contract and legal restrictions.” Please explain where you are going with this.

    As for undue influence by the unions, once again I’m not sure what you mean. They are a union and they are paid to protect their members. What type of influence bothers you and makes you nervous? I don’t think the unions (MEA or NJEA) have any grip on this town or their members. They seem to be a toothless tiger all roar and no bite.

    In the weekly Friday email dump by Dr. Ponds once again there is no information any of us in the district can use. Which schools are HVAC compliant and will open? Are the teachers going to be tested before they enter the schools and come into contact with children? Individuals that tested positive will be dealt with on a case by case basis? Seriously? How about letting the residents know which schools have had positive cases, how many, and exactly what is being done on a global basis not case by (swept under the rug) case basis.

    Yes, we all want our children educated and in person learning is truly beneficial especially to the young. But this, so far, seems like a very disjointed approach with no rhyme or reason to speak of. Lay out the exact protocols that will be used to insure the staff and students are participating in a safe and nurturing environment.

  7. Your comment is awaiting moderation

    @tidegirl2 One at a time here. Yes, the district could and should do a better job of communicating. However, I’m not clear on what you are referring to by “limited by contract and legal restrictions.” Please explain where you are going with this.

    As for undue influence by the unions, once again I’m not sure what you mean. They are a union and they are paid to protect their members. What type of influence bothers you and makes you nervous? I don’t think the unions (MEA or NJEA) have any grip on this town or their members. They seem to be a toothless tiger all roar and no bite.

    In the weekly Friday email dump by Dr. Ponds once again there is no information any of us in the district can use. Which schools are HVAC compliant and will open? Are the teachers going to be tested before they enter the schools and come into contact with children? Individuals that tested positive will be dealt with on a case by case basis? Seriously? How about letting the residents know which schools have had positive cases, how many, and exactly what is being done on a global basis not case by (swept under the rug) case basis.

    Yes, we all want our children educated and in person learning is truly beneficial especially to the young. But this, so far, seems like a very disjointed approach with no rhyme or reason to speak of. Lay out the exact protocols that will be used to insure the staff and students are participating in a safe and nurturing environment.

  8. “There are many places where K-12 kids are attending schools in person and the results are not terrible.”

    Absolutely priceless. I’ll guess your are a registered Democrat. Have bumper stickers on your car. Only read climate change headlines. And didn’t do any real homework before you moved here.

  9. There is an abundance of evidence that @tidegirl2 is correct, somewhat. I will post a link to an article in the NY Times today (see end of post) that researched, worldwide, transmission and incidence of school aged children from early ed through high school. The results are very interesting. If you don’t feel like reading it know that NYC schools had 28 positives in over 16,000 tests. 20 of them staff and only 8 students.

    However, it is noted in the article, multiple times, that safety is paramount in maintaining these good numbers in the past and certainly going forward. They mentioned ventilation, masks, and of course social distancing. And that is exactly where I take issue with Montclair. Does anyone seriously think that these old buildings have been retrofitted with proper ventilation? Half the windows don’t open and if they do open you can’t close them again without a custodian and a crowbar. So they need to be more forthcoming in EXACTLY what they have done, where they fall short and how those deficiencies will be mitigated and corrected. To date we have seen nothing of substance.

    And once more for the record… who has tested positive (not names naturally) in what buildings and schools? In NYC they had 20 staff positive. How many in Montclair? Anyway, read the article it is eye opening and very informative.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/22/health/coronavirus-schools-children.html

  10. People of Montclair, you need to read the New York Times reporting more critically.
    Look at the authors, subject matter experts, the constant caveats and modifiers. Then look at what isn’t included and logically you think should be. Then, lastly, always consider the timing. On one ‘page’, they are calling out the people ignoring the surge. A surge everyone knew and saw coming. And they ran this article. What, as a counter-balance to the fatigue of reporting science? They ran this as the CDC was reporting new cumulative exposure standards over the day. Yes, this is the NYT. Not close to Fox, but just a shadow of its former well-earned elite status during the last century.

  11. I’m not sure where you have a problem with the statistics they report. NYC, yeah that’s pretty close to us, 8 children and 20 adults in over 16,000 tests. We’re talking about schools here not the general population. A couple of the caveats were that proper precautions needed to be taken and that children over 10 years old are in a different class. I would like to see what Montclair is doing with respect to proper precautions and not merely lip service.

    Don’t negate the facts and opinions simply because it’s the NYT. Some reporting is very thoroughly and meticulously researched but agreed, not all. It’s always good to critically read the news no matter the source.

  12. Readily agree with your paragraph 2. I remain steadfast in it being an increasing daily occurrence. Not sure if it is editors, outsourcing, moral, talent drain, etc. Just dislike increasingly vetting articles at the expense of absorbing what they offer.

    In the Spring I heard various experts say the Western countries couldn’t open both schools and businesses and push down the transmission to <1.0. unless the stars of good fortune all aligned. As we have seen, the effects of the light pollution of ignorance prevents seeing any stars, much less whether they are moving into alignment.

    I have heard transmission is not controllable in such an opening of schools without testing and tracing. OK, the MPSD doesn't have the capability for the former and the 1 out of every 2 local traces are no cooperating. I understand the worse offenders are parents. I said back in the Spring we didn't have testing. Testing is better now, but woefully insufficient. While we have a minimum level of tracing, it is ineffectual to meet its contribution.

    So, we have to still protect the health system, so – as in the Spring – we can dramatically open up one or the other, but not both. Schools or commerce.

    Now, the 2021 national strategy to keep the healthcare system from failing is increased PPE protection for essential workers, isolation for the vulnerable and vaccines for both groups as available. The rest of the population will be addressed by allowing them to have a significant increase in infection levels – a limited herd immunity strategy. That's the plan.

    The numbers will tell us in another 10 days whether to open the schools. We're Montclair. We will figure out how to open & close windows. We are a magnet system – so we are used to widely divergent standard among our various K-8 schools. And while parents are figuring out air flows by classroom, we will still bus students to all six school zones, distribute them to various classrooms, collect them & bus them back to their respective six zones, and then they are will go socialize in the neighborhoods. Some will get sick. The parents won't tell and certainly not to the tracers, and we will rely on the tried & true PTA word of mouth and rumors. Schools will take turns closing for 10-14 days. We'll run into the December holidays. Then we will start again in January. It could work.

    If it works for the parents, then let's do it. Right.

  13. Great post Frank, thanks for your insights. And just to add a little asterisk, please Montclair, be forthcoming in what you are doing, how many are testing positive and what you are doing to monitor the situations and mitigate concerns. Open, honest and transparent will win this race.

  14. Frank: don’t be lazy. I’m referring to your post trying to demean my thought by accusing me of being a registered Democrat (guilty), having bumper stickers on my car (nope), reading only climate change headlines (nope), and not doing my homework before I moved here (debatable). I find you to be one of the more thoughtful commenters here generally. If you disagree with me, address the facts (as you did in your reply to louielouie). No need to label me…. :-).

  15. You are right, tidegirl2…I was excessive. I apologize for that.

    You say you are familiar with my posting and it is thoughtful at times. I don’t understand how you are surprised today about the relative power of the MEA here & the NJEA in general. The district’s century-old (admin/union & parent groups) lack of transparency and communication – often hiding like children behind privacy laws! And you paint he parents as though they have disproportionately less power and influence in this town. This last aspect is why those around us have voted Montclar, for consecutive years, the moniker of Entitletown. We have a dysfunctional magnet system because of the parents.
    (I know , most love it)

    But, I’m serious. We really think we are all that and a bag of chips.

  16. Am I being lazy?

    I’m a curmudgeon with a keyboard…who regularly shorts readers a decent proofread effort.

  17. Just to get back on topic here, how many staff in the district have tested positive? How many schools are compliant with ventilation guidelines? What are they doing about buses, school starts and dismissal? Lunches, snacks for the young ones? What happens when a child gets sick, where does that child go?

    This is the information we need in order to determine if we are sending our children back to in school learning or are we to keep our children with remote learning. Honesty and transparency please. I think that’s all anyone is really asking for. And how about a daily newsletter of ongoing steps being taken daily instead of a extremely long, weekly, difficult to find information in, Friday evening news dump? How about an online forum on the district website monitored and maintained by central office and/or the superintendent where we can ask questions that come up? We’re not really that tough of a crowd, we just need the info.

  18. What do the PTAs do? I’m really confused. What am I missing about an existing Parent-Teacher alignment, by building & Principal. Ok, I may be off base, but then does a PTA really serve any real purpose? And please don’t say fundraising.

    Clearly, the CO is a logjam. The superintendent doesn’t have the experience to create a responsive organization. In all fairness, it is the MPSD’s Achilles heal. It sounds like the ‘command & control’ needs to really start thinking outside of their very outdated box. Oh right, confidentiality. Never mind.

  19. PS: I’m sorry (not really) but, Montclair parents are tough. They are what marketeers call High Touch.

    Exhibit A: Watchung parents were the worse, but I sensing the Renaissance parents now are just over the top. Figures.

  20. OK, it was explained to me. Each PTA President is in charge of collecting pencils.
    I’m good with that.

  21. Ok so Bloomfield has done the right thing but I’m not clear why. Did they have some positive cases and realized this was an impossible situation? How many positives did they have and how does that compare to the positives in Montclair? I heard that so far we have 2 schools that have quarantined attending staff, but without confirmation from CO how can we really know? Is it even more than that?

    What is the union doing, what is the PTA doing, what are the administrators doing? Out with it already, we’re struggling here.

  22. The acceptable infection rate for some of the NE states is up to 100 per 100K of population per week.

    Montclair has 73 infections, Thursday to yesterday. (I track Thursday to Wednesday for a reason). At a census population of 38,600, that translates into 189 cases/100K/week. It’s not enough of a sample, but it is double September’s. I suspect Montclair is on that path.
    I wouldn’t worry about schools reopening.

Comments are closed.