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Faye Lederman speaks to attendees of a rally at Edgemont Park on Oct. 6. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

With remote-only learning in effect since March, parents and students rallied last week for Montclair schools to resume in-person instruction.

The school district started the year on all-remote learning in September after officials determined that the schools’ ventilation systems were not adequate to allow the buildings to reopen. After HVAC upgrades are made, schools are expected to open part time on Nov. 1. 

But at the Oct. 7 rally at Edgemont Memorial Park, co-organized by Faye Lederman and Carolyn Corbran, Montclair parents, especially those with young children, said remote learning was taking a toll on kids. 

“I’m here because I want my daughter to be in the classroom,” said Georgia Kral, whose eldest daughter started kindergarten at Edgemont this year. “If it’s safe to go on a hybrid schedule, I would love to make it happen.” 

Some parents voiced concerns with the inequity remote learning has caused. 

Amber Gilbert, with a fifth-grader at Hillside, said that not every family in Montclair has the means to make remote learning a comfortable experience for their children, and that it was disappointing that the township had such a disparity between those with resources and those without. 

“I think the teachers have done a great job and are making the extra effort in engaging the students,” Gilbert said. “But we know how hard it is for many of our neighbors [who don’t have resources].” 

Seventy percent of parents who responded to a district survey said that they wanted a hybrid model with some in-person learning.

Lederman, who is also one of the organizers of Montclair Outdoor Learning, an organization calling on the district to implement outdoor classrooms as a safer option for in-person learning while the weather allows, said she was disappointed that the discussion of outdoor learning and bringing back in-person learning has become what she referred to as a “wildly politicized fight.” 

She said some people on social media went as far as to accuse the members of Montclair Outdoor Learning of “trying to kill teachers and administrators, and that we had no idea how dangerous this is.” 

Montclair Cooperative School and other nearby schools have been able to implement outdoor learning with minimal difficulty, Lederman said.

At the Sept. 21 Board of Education meeting, several parents, most of them with children in kindergarten through second grade, said their children were suffering from anxiety, stress and depression resulting from remote learning. 

Corbran, who started a Change.org petition calling for outdoor learning to be investigated as a possibility, said her 5-year-old son has been struggling to socialize with other children. At in-person gatherings like soccer games, he will shout that he doesn’t want other kids to look at him. “Because he’s not engaging normally with peers,” Corbran said.  “I know it’s not just us, and it’s definitely a struggle.” 

Teachers, many of whom may be having trouble engaging students in online learning, are also struggling, she said. 

“I think the longer this goes on, the more revamping of what is currently in place has to happen. And I also think we’re really naive to think that these kids will be going back in three weeks,” she said, adding that the window of good weather is wasting away. 

The rally attendees were mostly parents of young children. But some parents of high school students showed up.

Richard and Diane Tobin, the parents of three current high school students and two graduates, said the amount of screen time is on overload. 

“Our age group, which is high school, have enough socialization in virtual reality,” Richard Tobin said.

He said he felt the district had responded with remote learning as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but that the district was too focused on risk mitigation at the expense of families’ long-term needs. 

Although the fall remote period has had more accountability and structure than the spring did, Diane Tobin said, “it’s becoming detrimental to [students’] mental health.”