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COURTESY ELIZABETHAFERRY/PIXABAY Montclair expects to reopen schools starting on Jan. 25.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair’s students are now scheduled to go back to school starting in late January.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Superintendent Jonathan Ponds announced two anticipated start dates for hybrid instruction: Jan. 25 and Feb. 8.

Jan. 25 is when students in Pre-K through fifth grade and special needs students are expected to return, if health and safety conditions permit. Middle school and high school students are expected to return on Feb. 8.

“I know that we all want what’s best,” Ponds said. 

Students are to be classified in two cohorts: “Mounties” and “Bulldogs,” with the two groups taking turns attending class in person during the week. The cohorts will attend school for four hours a day, two days a week, and have virtual learning for the remainder of the week. 

Students who wish to remain in virtual learning may do so. 

Ponds said the Jan. 25 return date was chosen to allow for a two-week period between the end of the holidays and the start of school, in case families needed to quarantine after traveling or spending time with relatives. He said the date was chosen after consultation with other school districts in the area.

Bloomfield has also chosen a mid-January date for returning to school, with hybrid instruction expected to resume on Jan. 19. 

Montclair was forced to delay the return to school in September after it was determined that the ventilation systems in most of the buildings were inadequate to address COVID-19. The reopening was pushed back to November, but was delayed again due to rising case numbers. 

The delay of the reopening has caused anger and frustration among some parents, especially those with young children, who say that their children are not functioning well in virtual learning. 

One group of parents has appealed for the district to pursue outdoor learning as an option. A second group, known as Montclair FAIL, has been calling for the schools to reopen. 

Four schools – Watchung, Nishuane, Renaissance and Montclair High School – have reported at least one positive case among staff, and parents at the Dec. 2 Board of Education meeting said they had been informed that a second case had been identified at Watchung. 

A report by EI Associates found that in several of the school buildings, a large number of rooms did not have mechanical ventilation systems. The report estimated that long-term fixes for those and other problems could cost upwards of $26 million. 

With the exception of Charles H. Bullock School, Montclair’s school buildings are all at least 100 years old. 

Montclair saw more than 200 new cases of COVID-19 in November, after cases began to rise in September following a flat summer. Essex County has been one of the hardest-hit areas of the state during the pandemic, with the county having the most deaths of any county for much of the year. 

Additional information on the reopening process is expected to be released on Friday, Dec. 4. 

“We want our children to return to a school that is safe, an environment that is safe, and where our teachers feel they are safe, and where our students feel they are safe,” BOE President Latifah Jannah said. 

This is a developing story. Follow Montclair Local for more information.