Nishuane Park (Google Street View)

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

Montclair parents organizing free weekly coronavirus testing near public schools have been denied a permit to continue testing at Nishuane Park. 

A group of 11 parents announced the sites in September, saying they were unsatisfied with testing plans put in place by the school district. In collaboration with MedRite Urgent Care, the after-school testing was open to the community and free for those without insurance.  

Sites were set up at Nishuane Park, near Nishuane Elementary School, and at Montclair Inn, by Hillside Elementary School.

The township issued a permit for testing at Nishuane Park Sept. 30, parent Lani Sommer-Padilla said at an Oct. 12 Township Council meeting. But when the group tried to renew the permit, it was denied.

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“I spoke with the town manager and he said that the reason for this was because of a town ordinance that would not allow for the use of a for-profit entity operating in the parks,” Sommer-Padilla said at the meeting. 

The ordinance referenced by Township Manager Tim Stafford refers to “vending and peddling” in parks — no person shall “expose or offer for sale any service, article or thing” in a park, it says. Additionally, the code prohibits the advertisement or calling of public attention to “any article or service for sale or hire.” 

Stafford referred questions for this story to Katya Wowk, the township’s communications director, who said the first permit was issued in error. Permits to for-profit entities, such as professional tennis instructors looking to use park courts, are denied, Wowk said.

“If you permit one person to do it, well then that opens the door,” Wowk said.  

While testing is being conducted by for-profit MedRite, the company is “just collecting reimbursement from insurance and also through the state for people who do not have insurance,” Sommer-Padilla said at the meeting. 

Stafford also suggested the group look into holding the testing sites at the schools, Sommer-Padilla said. But the popup sites are open to the entire community, not just those connected to the schools, she said. 

“I hope that this can be reconsidered, and that we will be issued the permit to operate within the parks,” Sommer-Padilla said. “It is not easy to find a private space to do this.”

In the past, organizations have been denied permit use for Nishuane Park, Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings said at the Oct. 12 meeting. 

“I would like to re-emphasize that we went about finding a testing partner who would serve the uninsured as well as the insured,” parent Kendra Johnson said at the meeting. “I’m calling in to ask for the council to be creative and flexible, in light of the need for these testing problems during this public health emergency.”

Council members would have to amend the ordinance in order for the permit to be granted for the testing site in Nishuane Park, Wowk said. 

Members of the parent group declined to comment for this story.