Haidong Liang

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

With the coronavirus vaccine now approved for kids ages 5 and older, some students and families are finally breathing sighs of relief. But Montclair public and private schools remain wary holiday travel could increase the risk of the virus spreading in their classrooms.

And in the case of at least one Catholic school, required quarantines after travel could lead to unexcused absences. 

At St. Cassian School, quarantine periods are required for unvaccinated students who travel beyond neighboring states — Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts — according to an Oct. 30 letter sent to St. Cassian families.

Those who travel to other states will have to be quarantined for seven days if a test taken five days after travel comes back negative. They’ll need to quarantine for 10 days if they haven’t taken a coronavirus test, according to the letter, shared with Montclair Local by a parent of a St. Cassian student. The policy follows quarantine guidance laid out in “The Road Forward,” the state guidance for schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Important Consideration: The Centers for Disease Control currently does not recommend travel for unvaccinated individuals,” the letter said.  

Any absences incurred during travel or quarantine after a trip are considered unexcused, and remote learning is not offered, according to the letter. 

The Archdiocese of Newark remains “committed to ensuring the safety of our students, faculty, and staff — in compliance with both CDC guidance and statewide health mandates and executive orders,” Maria Margiotta, the director of communications and public relations for the archdiocese, said.

She said the policy had been communicated to school communities “in order to provide ample opportunity to plan accordingly for travel.”

“We are unable to deviate from this policy by making special arrangements for specific families,” Margiotta said. 

Montclair Public Schools, though, will arrange remote learning for students in required quarantines after travel. The district is asking parents and caretakers to self-report trips to the school system when an unvaccinated student travels beyond Pennsylvania, New York or Delaware for 24 hours or longer. 

Unvaccinated students who travel will automatically be set up with virtual learning during their quarantine period, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said in an Oct. 21 notice to the school community. The virtual period will last for 10 days if a student elects not to test for coronavirus, or seven days with a negative test result.

“We value you as a partner and ask that you provide your children’s teachers/principals your travel plans a week in advance which will assist us in preparing virtual learning upon your return, allowing us to best serve your children,” Ponds said to families in the Oct. 21 message. 

As of Tuesday, the district had had 29 student cases and eight staff cases since the beginning of the school year, according to a COVID-19 Data Dashboard on the district website.

Ponds has not yet responded to questions about the travel policy sent to his district email beginning Nov. 11. 

Montclair Kimberley Academy is not enforcing any travel-related quarantines, Kim Saunders, the school’s director of communications and marketing, said.

MKA is asking families to comply with both CDC and state guidance, but since there are currently no travel restrictions imposed by the state government, the school is not monitoring student travel, Saunders said.

Remote learning is not provided to students who choose to quarantine, but students will be “supported with age-appropriate assignments and communication with their teacher,” she said. 

Absences during post-travel quarantines are marked as “quarantine days” in a student’s attendance record, Saunders said.

“Our community has demonstrated strong adherence to health and safety protocols, including voluntarily following CDC and state travel policies in regards to quarantines due to travel,” Saunders said.

MKA has had seven positive cases identified during pooled testing since the beginning of the school year, according to data on the school’s website

The travel policy at Lacordaire Academy is similar to MKA’s — no enforced quarantine after travel, but students and families are encouraged to “travel thoughtfully,” Head of School Megan Mannato said. 

And Lacordaire is working with families planning post-travel quarantines to ensure students don’t miss out on course work, Mannato said. Students who choose to quarantine will be marked as in attendance. 

“Whether we do remote, whether we send work home, it varies depending on the grade,” Mannato said. “But we will absolutely work with them.”

Immaculate Conception High School expects to enforce travel quarantines for unvaccinated students, but the school is still finalizing its travel policy, Principal Michele Neves said.