To the Members of the Montclair Board of Education and Dr. Jonathan Ponds:
We, the undersigned, are petitioning for the Montclair Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds to prioritize in person learning and open the PreK-5 schools no later than November 16th.
We represent part of the 64% of parents who chose hybrid/in-person learning for our children. The decision to send our children back to in-person learning comes with thorough evaluation of the benefits and risks, using current data. We believe virtual learning is not in the best interest of our children. Many of our children are suffering and falling behind academically, emotionally and socially during this prolonged ~8 months of fully remote learning. In a town as diverse as Montclair, we also have to consider the widening of the achievement and mental health gap between higher and lower income students. Many families have formed pods, hired tutors and some have even transferred to private schools all in an effort to supplement and or replace virtual learning; however, many families do not have the means to do so and we do not want to see those children falling even further behind.
We fully appreciate that in today’s COVID world, not all parents are on the same page with this subject and respect the opinions of those who prefer to keep their children home. The fact that the district is continuing to offer the option for a virtual only model should give even more urgency to returning to in-person learning for those families who have willfully opted for the in-person/hybrid model (again, 64% of the school population). The families who chose the hybrid model are still awaiting cohort assignments and school is set to open in less than one week. Children thrive on routine and the continued delays in opening since August has made it difficult to plan family schedules and has been extremely detrimental.
The science overwhelmingly suggests that young children are not driving transmission of COVID-19, and schools can be safe places for staff and students of all ages, even with spread in the greater community. Even with the recent rise in case rates nationally and locally, this should not deter the district’s return to school plans. It is unacceptable that the children in this community have not been prioritized, as stores, restaurants and bars have opened before schools.
Many local public and private schools as well as the Montclair YMCA, have been running for months without major issues. These districts include: Caldwell, Essex Fells, Glen Ridge, Cedar Grove, Livingston, Summit, Chatham, Ridgewood, and NYC public schools. Even when cases do occur, the testing, tracing and quarantining process used in other districts has proven sufficient in limiting in-school spread.
To ignore all of this evidence is to further the suffering of children and families with no rational justification.
Montclair families have been trusting to this point and recognize the tremendous efforts that have been made in creating safe reopening plans; however on October 30th, after receiving the notification of a delay to our hybrid re-opening date without a clear justification as to why, many families have grown increasingly frustrated and are losing confidence in Dr. Ponds and the Montclair Board of Education. The attempt to justify a district-wide delay based on a case of COVID in one closed elementary school defied logic and was lacking in credibility or transparency.
As Montclair parents, we are respectfully requesting the following from Dr. Ponds and the Board of Education:
1. Open PreK-5 schools for in person learning on November 16th, as planned.
2. Provide clear and transparent communications on reopening plans and progress towards those plans. For example, in recent weeks, we have heard from some teachers at the BOE meetings who are not comfortable with the re-opening plan. How is this being addressed?
3. Ensure a robust and clear plan for addressing positive cases of COVID-19. We have to follow all guidelines from the CDC while ensuring that in person learning will not be thwarted by impulsive responses that are too far-reaching without science-based justification (such as the October 30th district-wide delay impact based on the single Watchung case in a closed school building).
4. We are asking the Montclair BOE to partner with us, in transparency and advocacy for our children. Together we want to provide better in person options for every student, using CDC guidelines, current research and best practices that will support our young learners and keep school the positive and engaging place it should be.
We want to thank you for your tireless efforts during these unprecedented times. We recognize there is a need for extraordinary leadership and courage in the face of many obstacles. We are confident that by working together as a community and listening to the science, we can keep the focus on what matters most and return our children to school safely.