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Montclair High School.
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By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

Montclair High School’s athletic director says he’s starting to make plans for allowing some spectators at games, now that Gov. Phil Murphy has loosened up restrictions on attendees.

“The restrictions up to today were clear. No spectators,” AD Patrick Scarpello said.

But that changed Friday, when Murphy announced he’d sign an executive order allowing two parents or guardians for each player — still with a hard limit of 150 people present, or 35% of a facility’s normal capacity — at youth and school sporting events.

Scarpello said he’ll be communicating a plan to coaches and the school community as soon as he gets guidance from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. The NJSIAA said Friday it welcomes the news.

“We hope this order marks another positive step in the return to play,” the NJSIAA wrote in a message it published via social media. “At the same time, we urge parents to give our member schools time to review the governor’s order and determine both overall feasibility and a specific process for increasing occupancy as outlined.

Scarpello, in emails with Montclair Local Friday, said any increased allowance for spectators “has to be done with social distancing and masks worn at all times” — which is consistent with all restrictions Murphy’s executive orders have put on gatherings, business or activity since the novel coronavirus hit New Jersey in early 2020.

Athletic directors for Montclair Kimberley Academy and Immaculate Conception High School haven’t yet returned messages seeking comment Friday.

Murphy on Friday, at his routine coronavirus press briefing, was asked by one reporter about loosening up restrictions on sporting events while many school districts remain on all-remote instruction — as Montclair does, amid an ongoing dispute with its teachers union over a plan to return students for hybrid instruction. The governor, in recent weeks, has used his press briefings to mark the declining number of New Jersey schools without in-person instruction, and his executive orders direct schools that can do so safetly to hold at least some in-person classes.

“We know that the mental health toll has been enormous,” Murphy said. “It’s not just in the realm of sports and being able to play them, and being able to have tour mom and dad see you play them … but we do know that is something some folks are just desperate to do,” Murphy said.

The governor said he wanted to “get as many of our schools to in-person instruction” as possible.

“If we can allow moms and dads in to watch [sports], that’s also a good thing,” Murphy said.

Murphy has said as of the start of this week, 95 New Jersey school districts were holding classes in-person full time, up six from a week earlier. Most districts — 491 — were on a hybrid instruction model, with some students in school buildings and some learning remotely at any given time, up 21 from the past week. Montclair was one of 190 that remained all-remote, down 23 from the past week. Thirty-five districts remained on some mix of the systems.