Montclair High School petition
Montclair High School’s original 1914 building on Chestnut Street. PHOTO BY ADAM ANIK

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Parents have launched a petition urging the district to re-think the three hours of study hall planned for Montclair High School’s students when classes move to the annex on May 20.

The petition, started by district parent Jessica Henry on Change.org, offers a suggested alternative to the schedule that will take effect on May 20. The petition had 302 signatures as of Monday evening, 24 hours after it was posted.

The petition is addressed to Superintendent Kendra Johnson, MHS Principal Anthony Grosso, Mayor Robert Jackson and the board of education.

Under the May 20 schedule, students will have up to three hours of study hall each day, along with three hours of classes,and a lunch break for the entire student body in the middle of the day.

The three hours of study hall has parents questioning how students will receive a sufficient education with only three hours of classroom instruction a day.

“I think that creates a lot of disadvantages for the students in the building,” Henry said.

She said a number of parents had been circulating suggestions for an alternative schedule. One schedule, suggested by parent Amy Rabb-Liu, caught Henry’s attention, and is the one included with the petition.

About 1,700 out of the high school’s 2,087 students are expected to remain on campus. Apart from the seniors who will be off-campus completing their senior option work, all of the students will be attending classes in the George Inness Annex when the high school closes for asbestos removal and stairwell replacement.

“We are writing to express our dissatisfaction with the current district May 20 Proposal, which warehouses our children for at least three hours per day in study halls, crams all students into one over-crowded and chaotic lunch period, sends a very clear message to students that attendance is more important than instruction, and wastes students’ time and our taxpayer dollars, with no ability for families to authorize their students to pursue additional opportunities off-campus,” the petition reads.

Montclair High School petition
COURTESY CHANGE.ORG A screenshot of the petition.

The schedule proposed by Rabb-Liu has a modified schedule of class times, study hall times and lunch times. The modified schedule has a rotating cycle of six periods running for one hour and two minutes each, and asserts that students would get an additional 210 minutes of classroom instruction.

It also suggests an “Off-Campus Success Opportunity Plan,” which would allow students to leave campus at study hall to participate in volunteer work, read or study in an environment of their choice, or take part in other enrichment activities. Students would be allowed to participate in the off-campus plan once they had a permission slip signed by their parents, and if they had sufficient attendance at school.

Under the current proposed schedule, students would be allowed to use study hall to take courses on topics such as social-emotional health or writing college application letters.

The revised schedule, the petition states, would reduce study hall to one to two hours each day, divide lunch periods so not all of the students are eating lunch at the same time, increase the amount of instruction time, and allow students to leave campus during study hall to attend educational or enrichment opportunities in Montclair.

The main high school building will be closed as crews start the process of removing asbestos from the four stairwells in the front section of the building.

One of the stairwells partially collapsed in September. The district’s architects determined that four stairwells in total would need to be replaced.

The stairwell closures made classrooms on the second and third floors inaccessible to students and staff during the school year. The district brought in four classroom trailers, and classes are being held either at the George Inness Annex or in large rooms like the cafeteria, auditorium and LGI Room.

“Attendance is not instruction. Even in emergent times of collapsing and asbestos-laden stairwells, we owe it to our students to do better,” the petition reads.

BOE President Laura Hertzog said Monday night that the board was aware of the petition and the proposed schedule. She said the board will discuss next steps involving the high school schedule at the May 1 BOE meeting.

Henry said she was hoping to have a meeting with Grosso and Rabb-Liu within the next few days to discuss the petition. She was also hoping the petition would be presented to the district administration and the BOE for discussion.

Henry acknowledged that May 20 was a short time away, and that there might be issues that preclude the district from adopting a different high school schedule. She also said that the entire school year had been difficult for everyone, administration included. “This is not what anyone wanted to happen,” she said.