Montclair, NJ – The Montclair Education Association expressed its disappointment Tuesday afternoon in a response to the announcement made by Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds that the district will file a lawsuit against the MEA.
The Montclair Education Association has been willing to work with the district to ensure safe schools and instead the district repeatedly lies and obfuscates the truth. Even now, in Dr. Ponds’ statement of 02-‐02-‐2021, “Weekly Community Message No. 8,” he violates the conditions of a confidentiality agreement that both parties mutually approved with the state’s mediator. Like you, the Association learned about the district’s actions in disclosing confidential discussions via the weekly update with no advanced notice from the district-‐-‐not out of courtesy, not out of working to build a relationship with the MEA, not with any sense of integrity. The mediation process is ongoing, and we have refrained from violating the parameters set forth by the mediator, as a sign of our trust and good faith, which is why we have not henceforth come forward with any reports on the discussions being held at the table.
Instead, we have been sucker-‐punched by a district that cries wolf, when there are mounds of proof of the district’s negligence in preparing buildings for students, continued lies about second walkthroughs, and a purported desire to work with the MEA, while attempting to cast blame upon the staff. Furthermore, Ponds references that certain classrooms are already prepared to receive students and staff. However, his purported plan fails to take into consideration the organizational needs of students, staff, and parents—regarding things like bussing schedules, cleaning and sanitizing needs, classroom rosters and which staff are staying remote for health reasons. His promise that schools are ready is a hollow one, smoke and mirrors meant to distract our community from the false narrative he is trying to paint with himself as the “fixer” and “part of the community” and that the MEA is “unreasonable.” And, yet he repeatedly violates our trust, this very message “Weekly Community Message No. 8” is a clear indication of his complete lack of credibility.
In fact, in “Weekly Community Message No. 7” posted on Friday, January 29, 2021, Ponds states, “this is a sensitive situation and because we are currently in mediation and working with legal counsel, we do not want to compromise either process. It is important for everyone to feel heard, know that their safety is paramount, and that we reach the common goal of getting our students back to the classrooms.” And not three days later, he compromises the integrity of
our mutually agreed upon commitment to the process and confidentiality. He shares his ideas without context and ignores the fact that he has failed to consider the important details needed to make such a plan work. He has still not provided the documentation of repairs, improvements and protocols that the MEA has been asking for since October. Documentation that would, if it existed and was provided, assuage concerns and point to a viable plan of action in getting buildings ready. However, this is par for the course with the MEA’s interactions with Dr. Ponds.
Ponds implies in his “Weekly Community Message No. 8” that the staff is not teaching or working, that we don’t care about the students, and that there is a rift between the parents and us. He couldn’t be further from the truth. We absolutely care about our students, which is why we have been asking for documentation that the schools are ready since October because we want to ensure the best learning environment for both students and staff. We absolutely have been working every day since September 1 by contract. We worked all summer taking professional development to prepare us with additional tools and strategies for virtual learning. What part of that statement sounds like we don’t care and we’re not working? As for the alleged rift that he has tried to create that stands between educators and parents, he is out-‐of-‐ touch with the community. His reference to concerned parents is a small and vocal population. At the same time, he negates the needs and wants of the rest of the parents and caregivers and our community members who stand beside us, demanding safe schools. He fails to understand what our schools and our community stand for and value. We want to collaborate and build trust with the administration. However, Ponds is too single-‐minded to talk with us and come to a resolution, more interested in causing a distraction from his inability to lead.
“We are extremely disappointed in the district, for failing to provide requested documentation, for sowing seeds of doubt and resentment between parents and educators, and for violating our mediation process,” said Montclair Education Association President Petal Robertson. “The MEA has been and will continue to advocate on behalf of our students and staff and their families. And, as for going to court, the Superintendent has threatened us with litigation time and time again, despite our many requests to handle our differences through restorative practices. The MEA commits to leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to provide safe schools for our community.”