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By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Just over half of Montclair’s public school students intend to return to school buildings for hybrid learning, if and when the schools welcome them back, data released by the school district this week shows.

UPDATE, Feb. 10: Councilman ‘not surprised’ more Black families staying remote

By far, the largest racial or ethnic group planning to come back: white students, at 62%. Among every other ethnic group from which the district collected data, the majority intend to remain remote.  

That was most true of Black students — only 40% of whom expected to come back. For other ethnic groups, the split edged closer to 50-50%, with a slight preference for staying remote.

Students who receive individualized education plans (known as IEPs) were almost 50-50% on returning or staying remote. Students receiving accommodations for disabilities under 504 plans (so-called because requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) were 54-46% in favor of returning for hybrid learning. At recent school board meetings and in protests, parents of children with special needs have spoken passionately about the particular difficulties children with disabilities face out of the classroom.

There were significantly more students on free and reduced lunch who wanted to remain remote: 62%.

The opposite was true students receiving English Language Learner instruction: 59 percent said they’d come back.

It’s unclear when students may return to classrooms for a hybrid in-person learning schedule, as Montclair’s district leaders had expected to see happen starting with elementary schools on Jan. 25. The Montclair Education Association’s members have voted against returning, citing ongoing community spread of the novel coronavirus, aging ventilation systems and communications with the district they say haven’t been thorough or transparent in addressing their concerns. The district, which recently purchased 400 air purifiers to address ventilation issues and which has received approval from state authorities to reopen, is suing the MEA, accusing the teachers of an illegal strike. Teachers have continued to give lessons remotely, as they’d been doing since the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey in March of last year. 

Under executive orders from Gov. Phil Murphy, students that can resume some level of in-person instruction are expected to, but the governor has given districts wide leeway on how they set plans to do so. Parents may opt to keep their children home in any school district in the state.

Kalisha Morgan, the Montclair’s district’s assistant superintendent for equity, curriculum and instruction, presented the data during an equity department presentation at the Jan. 3 Board of Education meeting.

This is a developing story. Montclair Local has reached out to several community leaders, parents and the district for further perspective on the figures, in anticipation of a further report.

Parents interested in speaking about why they will or won’t return their students — and the disparities across demographics — can contact roll@montclairlocal.news.

RACIAL BREAKDOWNS

  • Of the 6,331 students spanning all races, 2,973 were intending to remain in remote learning, and 3,358 were opting for hybrid learning (47-53%).
  • Among Black students, 848 were intending to remain remote, and 548 were opting for hybrid (61-39%)
  • Among white students, 1,211 were intending to remain remote, and 1,989 were opting for hybrid (38-62%) 
  • Among Latino students, 422 were intending to remain remote, and 351 were opting for hybrid (55-45%)
  • Among Asian students, 170 were intending to remain remote, and 160 were opting for hybrid (52-48%)
  • Among Indian students, 4 intended to remain remote and 3 were opting for hybrid. Among Pacific Islander students, 3 intended to remain remote, and 2 were opting for hybrid. (Both groups are small enough that a single student making either choice causes a large shift in percentages). 

STUDENTS WITH ASSISTANCE OR ACCOMMODATIONS 

  • Among students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, 590 intended to remain remote, and 366 were opting for hybrid (62-38%).
  • Among students on IEPs, 534 intended to remain remote, and 546 were opting for hybrid (49-51%)
  • Among students with 504 plans, 168 intended to remain remote, and 195 were opting for hybrid. (46-54%)
  • Among students receiving English Language Learner instruction, 25 intended to remain remote, and 36 were opting for hybrid (41-59%)