Montclair BOE v. Montclair Education Association: District to Move Ahead, Court Date March 9

Montclair, NJ – Montclair School District and Montclair Education Association will see each other in court, with oral arguments expected to be heard on March 9.

“The Court did not order the temporary injunction requested by the Montclair School District required to immediately reopen schools to in-person instruction,” said Montclair Schools Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds. “The Montclair Education Association was ordered to respond by March 1st. The District is to reply by March 5th. The matter is scheduled to be heard in-person by the Court on March 9, 2021. The District intends to proceed accordingly”

Montclair Education Association stated Friday that the MEA “remains hopeful that an amicable resolution with the best interests of students, staff, their families, and our community will be reached. Our position has not changed and will not change.”

The MEA also highlighted statements made by Judge James R. Paganelli, saying his responses “confirm what we have stated since the beginning.”

Judge Paganelli said the Plaintiff has failed to articulate how he has complied with the “health and safety standards, delineated the Department of Education’s ‘Checklist for Re-­‐Opening of School 2020-­‐ 2021’ and detailed Restart and Recovery for Education’”.

Judge Paganelli also said the Plaintiff failed to explain how continued remote learning would not address the harm to the students.

“After reading the court order from Judge Paganelli, I feel we are vindicated in our stance,” said MEA President Petal Robertson.

“While this has been difficult, we believe we must come to a solution that gets our students and staff back into the buildings as soon as they are ready. At this time, we urge Superintendent Dr. Ponds and the district to drop their case against the MEA and come back to the table ready to collaborate on a plan that facilitates the safe and organized return to in-person instruction. That’s all we have wanted and all we still want.”

Robertson added that to date, the MEA attorneys have not been required to respond to the district’s application, and therefore, the denial of the district’s requested order is based entirely on the district’s submissions.

Dr. Ponds notified Montclair School families that the district intended to file a lawsuit against the MEA on February 2. The MEA responded, stating it was disappointed in the dsitrict for “for sowing seeds of doubt and resentment between parents and educators.”

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  1. So every argument submitted by Dr. Ponds was summarily dismissed without even a counter from the union? Wow what a resounding defeat. But when you look at the merits of the “case” it’s obvious it was based on false pretenses and weak arguments. Why not take that energy and effort and join forces with the MEA/NJEA to lobby Trenton and the Federal government. The stimulus package has well over 100B for education relief funding such as ventilation, reducing class size to allow social distancing, summer school and extended days. How much money and time was wasted by the district? You could have hired a grant writer, of which Montclair has some great ones, (and I mean super stars) that would have done it. And will still do it.

    So enough talk of court, retirement of qualified teachers, charter schools and non existent ventilation mitigation that didn’t even make it into the suit because there is no such thing. Instead of parading children’s backpacks outside an elementary school take a trip to Washington DC and stand out in front of Congressional leaders with signs pleading for help and money. It’s simply not safe to return yet but it will be. Let’s focus on the path to that end.

  2. The superintendent and presumably the BOE chose a nuclear strike at a time when a negotiated resolution was in plain sight: warmer weather, vaccinations and, as mentioned previously here, likely stimulus for schools. How short-sighted and all to please the noisiest parents, who by all indications do not speak for the majority. No question Ponds stepped into a terrible situation but his overreaction, seemingly with board approval, was foolishly divisive. If it fails, as the judge’s initial response would indicate, how on earth does he effectively move forward with district staff, given the needless hostility?

  3. “At Charles H. Bullock School, the Anti-Racism and Equity Committee of the schools PTA released a petition Friday calling for the district to reframe the conversation around schools reopening, which the committee said had become adversarial and rancorous. The petitioners called for the discussion to be reframed as a collaborative process through the lens of restorative justice, with the awareness that teachers, families, and administrators are all working with the best interests of the students in mind.

    “The teachers, staff, parents, and most importantly, students of this district deserve real transparency and nothing less than open, direct, and honest communication from the district as the negotiations continue,” the committee wrote in its petition. “In return, as parents we stand ready to do what we can to ensure that teachers and students feel safe to return to in-person learning. We need to come to an equitable resolution so that our community can begin to heal the deep divisions that have been heightened in this process.”

    From the Montclair Local coverage…..and to even claim that the teachers are on strike, when they have been taking on the enormous challenge of remote learning for months, is about as tone deaf as it gets.

  4. You know what is tone deaf? “…enormous challenge…” Seriously, there is a real world out there. All kinds of people had to figure out a lot of serious livelihood stuff. How about the grocery workers to name just one? Seriously tone deaf!

    I’m also wondering what a Pandemic Slide is? Is that when kids forget what they learned and get dumber or a new quarantine dance? Or does the district need to dip into it’s thesaurus and find a more accurate label for the phenomena they have absolutely no numbers to support? Oh gee, 2021 will be another year of making up data. What fun!

  5. What lacks transparency more than posting comments in a forum like this one without using your name? Posts from people that do not identify themselves are a scourge and anathema to honest debate and resolution of issues. They should not be allowed!

  6. MP “..seemingly with board approval..” and therein lies an ongoing problem with Montclair BOE. An appointed board. What are we now, one of 5 districts in NJ out of over 600 that has an appointed board. Hold elections and make them accountable to the townspeople not the Mayor.

    Correct about the scorched earth policy of our superintendent. Why? Did you really want to alienate 90% of the teachers with nary a way to recover from that? It was a miscalculation, as stated, of those who support our teachers and those who do not. Loud does not mean true.

    Teachers working remotely is not an enormous challenge? Try it Frank you’d be surprised at how many hairs you don’t have left in your head at the end of the week. Comparing grocery workers to teachers is ludicrous. Teachers sitting in a room full of children for 6 hours is a far cry from stocking shelves as people come and go fully masked. I wonder what the average age is of grocery workers vs. tenured, experienced teachers. I also have a feeling that the ventilation in Shoprite is slightly better than a basement room or repurposed closet in Watchung school. Why do you think half the office buildings in NYC are empty now? Because they are working remotely successfully. That is real world with serious livelihood stuff too. You can’t simply pick and choose to convenience.

    So the CDC just came up with “guidelines” for returning to the classroom. Unfortunately, it is an incomplete and watered down document that needs revision. Ventilation was not truly addressed nor was vaccination a requirement. It was welcome to see some science back at the CDC but they have a long way to go since the department was decimated and politicized over the past 4 years. We need leadership from the scientists and from school districts. We’ve become so accustomed to polarized ways that there will need to be a concerted effort by everyone to get back to what we considered normal just a few short years ago. Essential workers and teachers are at the front of the line for vaccinations now. If we stay focused on that and properly ventilate, with windows closed to those 20 deg temps, it shouldn’t be too long. Fight FOR the teachers and staff now Dr. Ponds. The judge gave you an outline and path forward. Take it and run.

  7. Well, hands down, a teacher’s life sucks more than parents. Who thought that was possible?

    Shocker! The teacher’s “customers” drive them crazy…for 6 hours. You’re right. All the other occupations have much easier customers, & employees. Shorter hours, too. They all have ‘direct line of sight’ workplaces, all performing to job expectations, none wanting to leave mid-year or complain.

    Remote? Piff! Prior to the pandemic, most of us only used phones to chat with friends and networks for shopping. Travel was only for vacation. As a matter of fact, there is no other occupation that I can think of that has any element of remote customer or worker relationships.

    No, teachers have it tough. Brutal, actually. Next contract, just submit what you think is fair $ number and we will be glad to pay it.

    Apparently teachers very often hate their jobs. Another shocker! I thought everyone loved their jobs.

    And lastly, I told you the CDC was going to sink your boat…and they did. Again. How many times is that now? Between the scientist and the pediatric doctors’ lobby, the MEA is running out of options.

    Grocery stores are hiring. They even have appropriate PPE now. Just watch out for the hockey players.

  8. Not everything under the sun is about race. The only equity issue I see here is teachers and their union versus students of all colors and their families. The first side is winning all over the country.

    Once people finally learn that police unions protect bad cops (as NYT finally has) maybe they will also realize teachers unions protect bad teachers, or cowardly (or uninformed) ones in this case. kids are minor transmitters-experts agree. Massive precautions have been implemented. It’s belt, suspenders x ten. Give em “combat” bonus if necessary but make em do their jobs. Go Sup. Ponds!

    Google scholarly articles on costs to children of missed schools days (eg snow days not made up) They’re huge. Except for the dead, no one will pay more dearly for this pandemic than the children deprived of a year of effective, in person instruction.

  9. @pelberg Why would you want to know my last name? (you already know my first) What’s the difference unless you’re bringing me over a 6 pack. This is a moderated forum and as such it remains civil with a free exchange of ideas. It is not an anathema, no one here is despised or detested. Neither is it a scourge. Sometimes non moderated forums can get testy but then you don’t log in and move along. Speaking of which…

    There is a great contingent of opposing and like ideas on Baristanet with intelligent and thought provoking discussion. Having to post your full name is old school and not necessary although mistakes of gender are sometimes apparent. I know, believe me. But that’s a simple correction and of no real consequence.

  10. Unions only protect bad actors? Really? You can’t really believe that if you look at the history of unions. They protect all workers! Their activity is about wages, benefits, working conditions and collective bargaining. If you are anti union that is another discussion but to suggest that unions only protect miscreants is disingenuous at best. Make ’em do their jobs? You don’t think they are working now? The judge in the case begs to differ.

    The CDC did come out with some “suggestions” yesterday but it was kind of wishy-washy. No real solid guidelines only a bunch of “ifs”. If it’s safe, if you can distance, if you can open a window. Wait, open a window in the middle of winter? That’s considered proper ventilation? But there are certainly some statistics lately that suggest it might be safer than first thought. But to say teachers can go back without a vaccination is perhaps a little premature. NYC and now Chicago will start in-class learning for elementary. We should know more about that in the coming weeks.

    But we can all agree, I think, that the youngsters have had it the worst and they will suffer. This was not our choosing. We are very close now to a safe reopening and one that will not vary from week to week. There’s a new sheriff in town let’s give him a chance. He wants all schools open and his wife is a life long union member and educator. Not all are bad actors.

  11. Frankly, Frank, the CDC rules are intentionally vague on several key elements: Vaccines for teachers not essential, but highly recommended. School is safe — if, enormous if — ventilation has been successfully remediated. Six feet social distance but if transmission in the community is low (good luck finding that community), maybe 3. Or is it 3 3/4?
    CDC director on Meet The Press Sunday morning campaigning for the Biden Covid relief plan to pass so older schools can get the resources they desperately need. Ya think that means they currently don’t have them? People with anti-union/teacher agendas read these guidelines and see a mandate. Many parents here and elsewhere, and in all likelihood a majority in this town, read them and their heads hurt. So confusing. Perhaps our district should file a lawsuit against the CDC.

  12. MP,

    I’m one of the few that thinks the CDC is a shell of its former self. As far as just MPSD, we don’t have vaccines, we don’t have testing, we don’t have good ventilation in over half our classroom capacity, we don’t have good masks. Our numbers over the past 2 weeks are a good sign, but…this will last for 4-6 weeks at most (depending on testing avail.). I agree there is some room (both physical & in negotiations) for compromise for SpEd & K-3.

    The bad news is it won’t last. By end March, our numbers will have clearly started their rise and April & May will be worse than April May of 2020. The vaccines, especially the new 1-dose types, will be less significantly less effective and will contribute to community spread. Meanwhile, we will also clamor to open up spectators to the older student events, the BoE will have to have in-person meeting to prove a point, while the community at large lifts business and social restrictions.

    The bottomline for the all members of all the unions involved is what are they willing to contribute/concede now? The answer is never ‘nothing’.

  13. you are right, Louie, Louie and I suppose Montclair Public School is too. I am old school. But the old school and tauight that trolls, who are actually touts (shills)for a particular perspective in a debate should proudly identify themselves as touts so their perspective can be understood as representing the position of one interest group- not the public interest. They are different.
    That is why having a Mayor that is a union official is problematic. Having a strong teachers union is a good thing but the union’s interests and the interests of the kids and their parents that live in this town should not be conflated. They are not the same!
    Trolling is cowardly and inconsistent with civic engagement and the resolution of probl;ems in the public interest.

  14. Just 2 points to dispute. NYC schools for elementary kids have been open since sometime in January after the holiday hiatus. They are not just “soon to return”. Second, teachers and staff in NJ can already get the vaccine with Murphy’s 1B category which is very broad. Some may even be vaccinated as phase 1A if they are 65 or older (if already not on an accommodation to work from home). IMO, the optics of teachers pushing to have their own exception to “jump the line” by having a specific category of their own to get vaccinated above others is again an example of that “entitled” attitude in their community… That seems to be the education unions agenda across the nation right now to give teachers priority status for vaccination before returning to in person learning….Remember, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  15. I agree that it is problematic the Mayor is second in command of the NJEA. He either should have resigned the position or not run for Mayor. I don’t know if it’s actually right or wrong but it just feels wrong and I’ll go with that. Also, I agree that if you are representative of a particular POV such as a union official or Township official then you should identify yourself on a forum such as this. However, I don’t believe that anyone here fits that category and therefore no one is really trolling from what I can see. (well maybe Frank but he gets a pass for longevity)

    NYC schools have been open but I was referring to Chicago schools who are looking to large districts for some kind of data. The CDC did not do the right thing here but perhaps once some of the rank and file come back they can clean up their act. I believe that teachers should have been at the very top of the line right after first responders, nurses, doctors and EMS. This is not a goose or gander thing but something that is very important as you can see now. Everyone wants the kids back in school and that is one way to do it. Ventilation is another but that’s millions per district in aging schools like Montclair has. Vaccinating teachers is not entitlement (there’s that word again) but common sense. How is it not? I think the agenda of unions across the country is to get teachers back to work. Safely!

    One day I’d like to explore if some children are better off with remote learning. Those that don’t do well in a classroom but thrive on the computer at home. Just food for thought. I know a lot of adults that have no intention of giving up remote working, they work better and are more productive. Their bosses are not in a rush to get them back to an office space either. But as I said, another day for that discussion.

  16. Teachers can NOT get the vaccine, which is why Murphy continues telling them to be patient. Facts matter. And even when they are made eligible, good luck getting an appointment in this every-man-for-himself system, favoring those with the time to keep hitting the refresh key. Teachers, despite the FAIL insinuations, are actually working all day.

    Frank, please, a little optimism! Your posts make me want to drink heavily.

  17. LL, you had mentioned NY with Chicago, hence my line…
    I never said it is “entitlement”. I said the fact that the MEA (and other teachers unions around the country) feels they should be vaccinated before stepping foot in the buildings is what reflects an entitled attitude. For sure. Because —
    Front line workers, (essential workers as they are called), have been working without being vaccinated since the beginning. Did they have a choice? Could they demand to stay home until vaccinated? There wasn’t even a vaccine to be given! This included health care workers who did not always have proper PPE and had to physically take care of someone with Covid. Now that is truly “high risk”; not teaching kids socially distanced and with the other measures in place such as masks, some with plexiglass (I know that’s debatable), using ventilated classrooms, etc. They had no choice not to go into work except to quit & find something else to do or go on sick leave (no 504 accommodation for them). Or maybe even unpaid leave if they were that afraid of contracting the virus. Finally, now, they are at the top of the line now for vaccination as they are priority group 1A as they should be. Did you look at the 1B group?? Anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 with medical issues (and the list is comprehensive that a lot of teachers would fall in to!); or if they happen to be age 65 or over, they have been able to be vaccinated since Murphy rolled it out for 1B in mid-January. Is it hard to get appointments? Yes, of course but some unions across the country are even calling for onsite vaccine clinics just for them. If that’s not an entitled attitude, I don’t know what it. Every other essential worker has already been at their in-person jobs. Now that vaccines are here it becomes the bargaining chip for return? “We deserve/demand to be a priority group for vaccination!” Please.

  18. Unfortunately, and harsh sounding, optimism has been the only contingency planning by the district, by many of the parents and the teachers. What happens if Plan A (depending on your POV) is unworkable? Yes, yes, we will figure something out. We’ll deal. We’ll whatever.

    But, meanwhile, look at all that time wasted. The lack of local leadership and vision. The opportunities ignored. The inability to learn. Our State & Federal governments desk topped this scenario. Years ago. Public acceptance was determined to be the biggest controllable factor.

    But, hey, the Summer is coming and I have to imagine the South African variant will not do well here in the warm weather. Good news.

  19. PS: GB, This month I highly recommend a pairing of Montclair Brewery’s Gil Noble Like It Is with my prognostications.

  20. We are suffering from a failure of imagination.

    The school district should just open in a ‘full hybrid’ format as opposed to a ‘hybrid format for students only’. The children and teachers who want to stay remote can stay remote. There is nothing wrong with students in a classroom watching their teacher on a screen while being overseen for good behavior by a grad school intern.

  21. How can you compare hospital doctors, nurses, and staff to teachers? They signed up to help and care for the sick and dying. Teachers did not. Hospitals are ventilated beyond anything I’ve ever seen at the HS or any school other than the Bradford wing and Bullock. They got masks, gowns, face shields, gloves. Teachers got bupkis. How many hospital workers got sick and died? How many got PTSD and had to retire? You want that for the teachers? Why? Because you feel they are entitled and too bad for them. They signed up for that.

    Your arguments are misdirected. Parents who don’t care about putting teachers at risk are perhaps so entitled that they don’t even see it. Thankfully they are in the minority. Loud but not loud enough for the judge in this case.

    I do put grocery and essential workers slightly above teachers in the order they should receive vaccines, but not by much. If you don’t eat you will certainly die. If your child doesn’t get into the classroom and has to learn remotely for a semester or two no one will die. I understand that there are challenges for the children and it’s stressful, but isn’t that what entitled parents are for? Support and parenting. Public school teachers are dedicated and want to get back. If anyone doesn’t believe that perhaps a charter school is more up their alley. Otherwise support the teachers and direct your anger at the administration. Get them to ventilate the schools, prioritize teachers for vaccination, social distance instruction and volunteer parents, such as yourself, to enter the school and help out.

    And calling for clinics to vaccinate teachers is the epitome of entitlement? How do you figure?

  22. Yes Townie, there is lack of imagination among the administration, the teachers and the parents. Part of the problem is every child is special. Every student is unique. Each classroom is unique. Each building is unique. It’s administration is unique. All parents are unique. We are all just so very, very unique. Only Montclair could modify…and then over-modify unique.

    For either the administration or the MEA to satisfy the parents is un-winable.

    Yes Townie, we leverage our unique strength and let them uniquely figure it out unique solutions. Put representatives of Renaissance’s principles, teachers and the PTA together. Let them figure it out. Or not figure it out. It is not essential. It would at least distribute the challenge & the noise to each school. Let them bludgeon each other and when each unique tribe can’t figure it out, then maybe each will dial it down to some constructive, district-level back and forth. But, percolating this up to the top unfiltered, unrestrained is a recipe for self-destruction.

    Personally, I don’t thing any of the constituencies are capable of this, but Townie, we’re just spitballing here.

  23. for LL: you ask: “How can you compare hospital doctors, nurses, and staff to teachers? They signed up to help and care for the sick and dying. Teachers did not”; —— Different settings with PPE and mitigation measures appropriate to each of those settings/level of risk; sick population vs. well population. The common denominator being—- both are service professions with a duty to serve the needs of their clients. Both must assume some risk in their service to their clients. Nothing is full proof. High risk (medical) vs. moderate risk (teaching well students who may only possibly be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic). Hence the appropriate mitigation measures for each of those levels of risk.
    “PTSD” ???? really? come on… would love a Vet to comment on that one!
    Doctors and nurses HAVE died in the course of catching COVID during their work! Especially at the beginning when they couldn’t get the appropriate PPE that they needed for their level of risk such as N45 masks!
    You imply I want the teachers to be in harms way? Of course I don’t; most teachers are wonderful dedicated professionals. The troubling issue is the union agenda that becomes unreasonable. Key word “unreasonable” and yes entitled; wanting special treatment or measures in place that is over and above what has been deemed reasonable or appropriate to the setting. Demanding perfect (whatever that is in this pandemic), not just reasonable mitigation measures. The data has repeatedly shown that the schools are not a major driver of transmission and that younger children (elementary ages) do not transmit the virus as expeditiously as teens or adults. Therefore, schools are not a high risk setting for Covid transmission, and with the recommended mitigation measures in place can be pretty safe. Full proof, nothing is! That is a unrealistic expectation.
    I’d love to have any teacher that wants to be vaccinated to get it, but given the level of risk in their work place setting (compared to other “front line worker” groups), it doesn’t seem to warrant a “special exception” category for vaccination. Again a teacher with a condition listed in Murphy’s 1B category can already get the vaccine, or they can have a work from home accommodation. If they’re 65 or over, they also qualify right now to get the vaccine.
    I think the public generally values and admires teachers and the work and service they provide. It’s just this extreme uncooperative union stance that is what bothers them.

  24. And while you are looking up unions in America SnT, look up PTSD in nurses. It’s an easy search. Vets are not the only ones who get it and you don’t need to be shot at either. Do you even research stuff before you post it?

    It really simple. Ventilation and vaccinations for schools and staff. How hard is that to do? Put teachers in the front of the line or have your child stay remote until they do.

  25. So “not nice” LL.
    I know all about the history of labor unions. Check out my other post on the SOMA thread.
    I do research much. I would actually bet more than you, from what I’ve gathered from these conversations here with you. A lot of posting is opinion here which we are all entitled to. No need to demean.
    I really don’t think PTSD in Vets or Nurses can even compare with a teacher teaching via a hybrid model! Apples and oranges! Crazy comparison.
    Unwilling to really see the other perspective about the common good here!

  26. “It is really simple.” Is this your position or the MEA’s?

    Someone overlooked an important part of that simpleness – we can’t do 100% mechanical ventilation. So, we can’t do full-time students even with vaccinations. MHS can’t do standard periods because we can’t have ventilation in all the hallways. We can’t do block scheduling. We can’t treat the classrooms during changeovers. There is a whole list of things to address.

    I get the advocacy, but honesty & transparency is also required on the MEA’s part. The simple truth of their position is you vaccinate EVERYONE before you get to full-time classes…which means September (best case). Yes, maybe a pod or a module here re there, but just tell the parents and the districts this is the MEA position is.

    Yes, it is that simple.

  27. you got it Frank!
    And talk about goal posts moving? First in September it was “not ready; no mitigation measures in place”. Then comes November and it’s “Community spread rising”; Then after the district does it’s homework and looks at “OK opening then after the holiday surge starts to recede based on health model forecasting” — which many districts did collectively, it becomes
    ” but now that the vaccine is here, teachers need to have that before they return to in person learning.”; yes, Frank honesty ad transparency.

  28. And one more thing: This is not union bashing from me. Like I said on the SOMA thread, I actually value and believe in unions and feel they protect workers rights as they should. But in this case they go too far, as sometimes they now do which is why people criticize them.

  29. Sorry, SnT. It was a little harsh and I thought about it during the day. I’m just really pro union since I’ve been in the union all my life. Just buttons pushed is all.

    I do believe we are all on the same side with some slight differences of achievement. We’ll get there. I’ll look at the SOMA thread tomorrow and respond in kind.

  30. Surprise! Today is Ash Wednesday.

    Soon, Montclair will have had its…

    Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
    Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan
    Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
    How do you measure a life of a woman or a man?
    In truths that she learned
    Or in times that she cried
    In bridges he burned
    Or the way that she died

    Where are we? What have we learned?

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