Montclair, N.J. – Eighty Montclair educators will be vaccinated each week starting Monday thanks to a partnership between Montclair Schools, Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center and the Township of Montclair.
“Starting next week again, through the great partnership and the work with the Mountainside team, there’s a plan in place to vaccinate 80 educators per week, starting next week, to get our educators vaccinated and back to in-person instruction as soon as possible,” Mayor Sean Spiller said. “This is really there to complement the resources and tools that the district has been working on.”
The news was announced at a press conference Friday by Mayor Spiller who was joined by Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds; BOE President Latifah Jannah, Montclair Education Association President Petal Robertson; Brendan Gill, Essex County Commissioner At-Large; and Tim O’Brien, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center.
“We at Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center began administering the COVID-19 vaccine to community members in December of 2020,” said O’Brien. “Mountainside is extremely proud that we have administered thousands of vaccine doses to high risk community members, other healthcare providers and frontline workers. We are also incredibly honored that we are able to begin vaccinating teachers and other staff members across districts, including Montclair Public Schools.”
Spiller thanked Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds and his team for coordinating with Mountainside as well as Township Health Office Sue Portuese and her team.
“I’m excited today that we’re able to announce our partnership with Mountainside Hospital and the municipality, and also all of our local officials and leaders,” said Dr. Ponds. “When we come together, we can solve any problems. When we come together, we can tackle the pandemic.”
Dr. Ponds referenced a verse that President John F. Kennedy often quoted: “Bullfight critics ranked in rows, Crowd the enormous plaza full; But only one is there who knows, And he’s the man who fights the bull.”
Ponds then gestured to those at the podium, stating “These are our bullfighters, the ones that fought the pandemic to help us get where we are. Thank you all.”
“I also want to say this is going to benefit not only our community, but most important — our children in Montclair,” said Ponds. “I want to say thank you to Dr. Alison and the executives at Mountainside. You’ve been working so hard for many, many, many months.”
Ponds also thanked the MEA, BOE President Latifah Jannah, Mayor Spiller and especially Montclair Schools Nurse Supervisor Betty Strauss.
“Last year, this time, teachers all over were frantically packing up classrooms for what we thought was going to be a two week remote period,” said MEA President Petal Robertson. “So as we approached this anniversary, I’m so happy to know that working in partnership with the Superintendent and with Mountainside, we’re able to ensure another level of safety, not just for our educators, but for our children and our community. And for that, we are so immensely grateful.”
BOE President Latifah Jannah said she was appreciative of the work not only to get vaccines for teachers but for all that went into bringing “our students and staff back into Montclair schools.”
“There’s no question that this issue has been one that has divided our community to some extent,” said
Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, who is both a parent to two children in the Montclair School system and a son of a veteran Montclair teacher. “So I’m here to say that this is progress. Every teacher having the ability to be vaccinated as fast and as soon as possible brings us one step closer to where we all know we want to be, which is back in school full time.”
Montclair Schools had filed a lawsuit against the Montclair Education Association, calling for a physical return to school; the MEA described the district’s action as a “sucker punch.” Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled with an agreement to open elementary schools for in-person instruction beginning April 12. In a statement before the settlement was reached, the MEA said it was only due to “standing firmly on its need to ensure safe buildings that the district finally brought in EI [engineering firm] in March to revisit the spaces and provide protocol and process information to the association.”