Montclair public schools are set to begin pooled coronavirus testing of students and staff for the school year, superintendent Jonathan Ponds said at an Oct. 18 Board of Education meeting. (TALIA WIENER/STAFF)

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

More than 90% of Montclair school district staff members have received coronavirus vaccinations, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said this week.

“Our other staff is working with us about getting their weekly tests,” Ponds said at a Monday, Oct. 18, school board meeting.

That day was the deadline for all school staff in New Jersey, in private and public schools, to be vaccinated or be tested weekly, as ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy in August.

According to the district’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, launched this week at montclair.k12.nj.us, there are approximately 1,100 staff members in the district, and as of Tuesday there had been six known cases of coronavirus among staff this school year. There had also been 15 known student cases.

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“One of the things I’d like to say about Montclair is that one of the reasons why we are being successful is because we have a highly vaccinated population,” Ponds said at the meeting.

Staff members who have not been vaccinated are required to submit weekly test results, but Murphy’s mandate and board policy says the superintendent can decide whether testing should be required once or twice a week. Board member Eric Scherzer asked Ponds to increase required testing to twice a week. 

Montclair Local coronavirus dashboard

“I think that that would encourage more staff to be vaccinated, which I think is important,” Scherzer said at the meeting.

The district will also move forward with voluntary pooled testing for students and staff next week, Ponds said at the Monday meeting. 

“​​Plans with respect to pooled testing will be sent out to families as quickly as tomorrow to get their information moving forward to prepare for next week,” he said.

In pooled testing, participating students and staff members in a given classroom will self-administer a nasal swab, and all swabs will be placed in a combined container. If a positive test is found in a pool, the students in the pool will be given rapid antigen tests, a representative of testing provider Ginkgo Bioworks said at a recent board meeting. 

The district plans to conduct the testing outdoors, under tents.

Testing in Montclair schools was scheduled to begin Oct. 12, but plans were put on hold after the district was sent an article about Ginkgo Bioworks published in BioSpace. As described by that and other articles in the financial industry press, Ginkgo Bioworks’ stock plummeted after activist short seller group Scorpion Capitol accused the company of engaging in a financial “shell game” and called its business operations a “Frankenstein mash-up of the worst frauds of the last 20 years.” Law firm Block & Leviton was investigating the allegations as well. Ginkgo went public in September.

Ginkgo is still an approved vendor for the state, and the district will continue to work with the company, Ponds said at the Monday meeting.