By ERIN ROLL
As Montclair’s public schools put together a reopening plan and await guidance from state and local health officials, the township’s private schools are beginning to announce their plans for fall.
While public schools are required to follow the guidance issued by the Department of Education on forming a reopening plan, private schools are only encouraged to follow the guidance, not required to do so, said DOE spokesperson Mike Yaple.
Executive orders from the governor’s office, such as the order closing all schools in March, apply to public and nonpublic schools alike, however.
Some private schools, like the public schools, are hoping to open with a hybrid model in September if it is safe to do so. But others, such as Lacordaire Academy, are opting to wait until October to resume in-person instruction.
Local health offices have oversight over private-school reopening plans, Yaple said, in that they may review a private school’s reopening plans to make sure they align with local and state health policies.
Lacordaire does not plan to reopen for in-person instruction until mid-October, said Megan Mannato, the head of school.
“The state of N.J. is currently only in phase two at this time and with this in mind, we do not feel comfortable ‘experimenting’ with our faculty and students by placing everyone back into the building,” according to an eight-page initial plan released by Lacordaire on July 24.
With the age of the school’s buildings and the need for air conditioning in September, officials are concerned with circulating stagnant air and, potentially, the virus along with it, officials said.
The officials are considering bringing middle school back for a full day on Oct. 13, followed by the upper school students only on Oct. 14. Grades 1-4 only will report for a half-day on Oct. 15, and grades pre-K and kindergarten will report for a half-day on Oct. 16. All grades would then show up for a full day of school on Oct. 19.
Lacordaire officials also considered a hybrid option, but decided that it would be more effective to have either all in-person instruction or all virtual learning.
In a survey sent to parents, 50 percent supported sending their children back to school, while 18 percent said they wanted to keep their children home and the remaining 32 percent were undecided.
“The data reinforced the notion that there is no one-size-fits-all model, and with so much uncertainty in the families surveyed, we tried to come up with a plan that will assist our families in making a decision that they are comfortable with for the fall,” officials said.
Montclair Kimberley Academy hopes to have all three of its campuses reopened for the fall. While New Jersey is in stages two and three, MKA will offer a hybrid model with groups of students alternating between in-person instruction and remote instruction.
The plan is to have 50 percent of students on campus and 50 percent learning from home on a given day, Headmaster Tom Nammack said.
Families who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school in person will have the option of all-remote learning, Nammack said.
However, pre-K and kindergarten students will attend school five days a week.
Only when New Jersey is in stage four will all students and staff be back in the classroom full time.
“The reality is that the situation is and will remain fluid for some time to come,” school officials said. “Students, faculty and families should understand that movement from stage to stage may, and likely, will not be linear.”
For remote learning, there will be a live feed in each classroom, so the teachers will be teaching the in-person and at-home students at the same time. The schools have bought Owl conference cameras, which are designed to turn to whoever is speaking at the time.
Nammack said the response to remote learning has varied, often depending on the age of the child. Families with middle school and upper school students reported a good response to remote learning: “They really understand that we’re being guided by our health and safety responsibilities and concerns,” he said. But in the primary school grades, some parents reported feeling frustrated by remote learning.
Faculty have received eight days of professional development for virtual learning in preparation for the new school year, along with workshops.
MKA has been reviewing its reopening plans with the school’s board of trustees. Additionally, Nammack said, there have been twice-weekly conference calls with the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools. During those calls, he said, heads of schools discuss their reopening plans and exchange ideas.
Immaculate Conception High School is also opening with a hybrid schedule, Principal Michele Neves said.
In-person education will be provided for students whose parents feel comfortable sending them to school, while remote learning will be provided for families not comfortable with in-person.
“We are still working out the details, and we hope to begin on or by Sept. 14,” Neves said.
Deron, Montclair Cooperative
The Deron School, which serves Montclair and Union special needs students, is awaiting additional guidance from the state before presenting its reopening plan, says school Director Lori Alter.
“We would like to have our students in the building as much as possible in September for our special needs students, but we will wait for more decisions to be made by the government and NJDOE,” Alter said.
The Montclair Cooperative School, which serves children through eighth grade, has not yet posted details of a reopening plan on its website. However, on social media on July 9, the school announced, “Montclair Cooperative School is committed to being outdoors as much as possible to provide space for socially distanced learning and play.
“Teachers and admin., along with trained medical professionals, are working hard this summer to carefully develop and implement this programming so that we can continue to educate children and navigate families through these unprecedented times.”