Montclair Public School students won’t begin in person learning until January 25th for special education and elementary school students and February 8th for high school and middle school students.
The announcement was made by Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds as part of his Superintendent’s report during Wednesday’s Montclair Board of Education meeting.
Ponds said this latest target date for the district was determined after meetings with senior staff, medical personnel and discussions with other districts and looking at their guidelines and deadlines.
“We are working with our teacher association to ensure that all staff and students follow all safety protocols with fidelity. I know that we all want what’s best. I know we want to work together during these challenging times,” said Ponds.
The announcement was criticized by parents during public comment, many who identified themselves as being involved in Montclair Families Advocating for In-Person Learning (FAIL), a group of some 450 Montclair families.
Catherine Russell, a parent who identified herself as one of the leaders of Montclair FAIL, spoke about the group’s name.
“The acronym FAIL accurately describes the school districts, incredible failure to get her children back into school, where they belong,” Russell said. “Can you please confirm that you are prioritizing our children and plan to get them back to school, regardless of the pressure that you may be receiving from the union?”
“We asked for transmission metric thresholds for getting back into school and we still do not get answers. Answers such as ‘cases are rising,’ ‘we have to wait this out’ and ‘these are unprecedented times’ are not acceptable answers from Dr. Ponds or the board members. Please state your metric thresholds. Governor Murphy wants our kids in schools. Why are you ignoring the science? Why are our children not in school?”
When another parent from Montclair FAIL said during her public comment that Dr. Ponds had told a county official that the delay for schools to reopen was because buildings weren’t ready, Ponds stopped her statement to adamantly refute what she had said, stating he had never said anything like that and that he was deeply offended.
Later in the meeting, Ponds shared his thinking behind the January 25th start date, confirming that having a delayed start after the winter holiday break would give families who travel during the holidays enough time to quarantine before coming back into the buildings.
“We have a pandemic we’re dealing with, but we’re planning on getting our kids in on the 25th,” Dr. Ponds said in closing remarks. “I talk about our cases rising. I do look at our case rate. I do look at our infection rate. I look at our trend line and our trend line has been going up. I believe our infection rate was 8% at one point. We look at these things, and we talk to medical officials about this. We watch these things constantly. So please know that any decision I make is about safety and also about getting our kids the help they need. We will get our kids into school and it’s my job to do so.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, in his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, shared data on the number of schools open for in person learning as well as the number of COVID-19 cases in schools.