By TALIA WIENER
Montclair High School sophomores, juniors and seniors will begin hybrid instruction in the coming weeks, the district has announced.
Sophomores will begin in-person instruction on May 26, and then juniors and seniors will return on June 1. Students will be placed in two groups, Mounties or Bulldogs, and will rotate days for in-person instruction. Mounties will be in-person Mondays and Tuesdays and Bulldogs in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. The two groups will alternate in-person instruction on Wednesdays.
Montclair high school teachers will prepare asynchronous lessons for sophomores, juniors and seniors on May 24 and 25 to allow for classroom and technology preparation for in-person instruction.
The high school will be sending more information along shortly, the district’s message said.
The schedule gives sophomores just under a month on the hybrid learning plan, and juniors and seniors students slightly more than three weeks, before the last day of class on June 24.
A Change.org petition titled “Re-Open Montclair High School to All Students Now,” which as of Thursday had more than 600 signatures, was sent to Superintendent Jonathan Ponds, MHS principal Jeffrey Freeman and members of the board of education on May 17, the petition’s creator, Jessica Henry, said at a school board meeting that day.
“We need immediate answers and transparency from the district,” the petition states. “Most importantly, we need our school to open now.”
The petition asks the district bring back all students for in-person instruction immediately, communicate to families the existing barriers to full-time in-person instruction and release a plan for in-person instruction in the fall.
“If I had more time with this petition, I’m sure I would have gotten more signatures,” Henry said at the board meeting. “People are really upset.”
The return to schools after more than a year of remote-only learning in the coronavirus pandemic has been a staggered one. Students in the district’s elementary schools returned April 12 for a hybrid learning schedule, and middle schoolers followed on May 10. MHS freshmen began a hybrid schedule on May 19.
In any New Jersey school this academic year, families can choose to keep children on remote-only learning even if a district has some level of in-person classes. In Montclair, majorities of students returned at the elementary and middle school levels. But according to figures released by the district earlier this month, just 44% of high schoolers planned to come back.
The return to Montclair schools — originally planned for September — saw several delays, first of the district administration’s own choosing because of community coronavirus levels and concerns about antiquated ventilation systems in schools, and then because Montclair Education Association members refused to return in January, not yet satisfied district facilities were safe enough.
The district and MEA eventually settled a lawsuit over that dispute, with teachers agreeing to return in exchange for more information about safety practices and facilities work, as well as an agreement to hold walk-throughs of each building before coming back. MEA Secretary Cathy Kondreck said at a school board meeting Monday that on a May 14 walk-through of MHS, the union identified 17 restrooms and more than 25 offices or classrooms that didn’t have adequate ventilation, despite the district’s own, differing assessment. The parties were expected to hold another walk-through Tuesday in an attempt to resolve those differences.
Kondreck didn’t, however, ask that the return to MHS be put off.
Neither the MEA nor the district administration has yet returned messages asking what the results of the Tuesday walk-throughs were.
All schools in New Jersey are expected to return to full-time in-person in the fall. This week, Mayor Sean Spiller announced a task force intended to help guide that process. The group includes parents, students, administrators, and school board members. It’s chaired by special education and equity advocate Debra Jennings; both she and the mayor said it’s their goal to find improvements that go beyond the pre-pandemic status quo.
Councilman Peter Yacobellis, in a statement emailed to constituents last weekend, said the Montclair Township Council is ready to work with the school system, teachers, parents and others on a return to five-day learning in the fall. And he said while he’d have liked a return earlier, “after speaking with Dr. Ponds, I do not feel at this point that it is logistically possible to do so safely.”
“I know that’s difficult to hear for many parents,” the councilman wrote.