Montclair Public Schools had previously announced it would bring all elementary schools staff members back into school buildings to prepare for in-person learning today, Tuesday, January 19. However, the Montclair Education Association, reiterating its previous statement regarding the need to continue remote learning, announced today that the MEA stands with elementary school staff in staying remote.
In a release, the MEA President Petal Robertson states:
On January 19, 2021, the district intends to bring all elementary staff members back into the buildings for in-‐‑person learning. Despite the repeated requests for more information, dating back to October 2020, the superintendent and board of education have failed to respond. The association has requested to be given proof of the specific building remediations completed. To date, the district has not provided it.
We have the right to advocate for a safe and healthy work environment for our staff. Instead, the district is standing firm on its decision to reopen with vague procedures and hybrid building plans. When pressed for more transparency, the Association’s requests were met with resistance. Quite simply, building walkthroughs in which both the Superintendent, Buildings and Grounds Director, and Business Administrator were present, indicated serious concerns including but not limited to the non-‐‑functioning univents, poor ventilation, and lack of safety precautions for our custodians. Furthermore, months after the initial walkthrough there was no evidence of remediation.
In addition, our elementary staff is being mandated to return to their buildings without sufficient training, communication of an effective academic plan for all learners, and any evidence that the building is able to support the healthy learning environments needed to teach all of our students safely. The association has requested professional development, building/specialty level meetings, and documentation since September, in an effort to alleviate these concerns. All to no avail. Although the district promised regular informational meetings and consistent communication. That did not happen. The district promised an abundance of professional development to properly prepare for a hybrid setting. That did not happen. The district promised to meet with MEA leadership to agree upon reopening standards. That did not happen.
Finally, Superintendent Dr. Ponds made a decision on November 11, 2020 that pointed to the increase in community spread of COVID-19 as a reason to postpone in-person instruction. The rate of infection on November 11, 2020 was 1.13 and the new daily cases were 42.6 per 100k people. The re-‐‑evaluation the first week of December 2020 determined that we would continue fully remote until after the holidays. He used a regional risk matrix indicating weekly activity level reports to make this decision. The rate of infection on December 4, 2020 was 1.04 and daily cases were 47.5 per 100k people. As of today, January 18, 2021 the day before elementary school staff are to return to buildings, the rate of infection is 1.13 with 65.7 new daily cases per 100k people. The numbers in Montclair are as follows:
-‐‑ November 11, 2020 cases per 100k were 30
-‐‑ December 4, 2020 cases per 100k were 31.02
-‐‑ January 16, 2021 cases per 100k were 34
The numbers are consistent and increasing. The decision to go back to the buildings contradicts the Superintendent’s previous rationale and is incomprehensible with the anticipation of the COVID-‐‑19 vaccine availability right around the corner.
MEA President Petal Robertson went on to say, “We recognize that this is a difficult time for many in our community. Our advocacy will always be for safe schools and sound learning practices. During this pandemic, we understand the need to be distant but not divided. We have and will continue to champion safe schools and sound educational supports for our staff and students.”