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Montclair schools will allow students to temporarily, optionally attend class remotely for 10 days beginning Wednesday, Jan. 5, as coronavirus cases in town and throughout the country continue to rise quickly.

Students will return from their winter break Monday, Jan. 3, but in a notice sent to families on New Year’s Eve, Superintendent Jonathan Ponds asked for a “48-hour grace period to set up for this virtual learning.” The option will be offered alongside full in-person instruction for those who choose to return to school buildings.

Additionally, absences on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 will not be counted against students, Ponds said.

Ponds had affirmed both at a school board meeting earlier in December and then in a community message over the break that schools would come back in person Jan. 3, even as some nearby districts made temporary plans for all-remote classes. East Orange will hold remote learning until Jan. 18, that district has announced. The South Orange and Maplewood district will be remote until Jan. 10. Multiple Montclair sports teams have also cancelled planned games because of cases and exposures among players, or among those from other schools.

The moves come amid quickly growing case numbers in the community and beyond. Over the week leading up to Dec. 30, Montclair Township overall averaged 114 news cases per day, according to the municipal health department’s tracking. By comparison, in the week leading up to Nov. 30, the township saw an average of less than 5 new cases per day.

To date, Montclair schools have registered 204 student cases and 63 staff cases this school year, according to the district's online tracker. Of those, 114 student cases and 37 staff cases were in the week leading up to Dec. 23, the last day before winter break.

Those figures also only include cases identified through the district's own testing; it conducts voluntary, opt-in pooled testing of staff and students, with follow-up individual tests when positive pools are identified.

"We have received emails from families expressing concerns about returning their children to in-person learning," Ponds wrote in his message to families on Dec. 31. "We understand your anxiety and the district will offer a virtual option for those who do not feel comfortable with in-person instruction at this time."

He asked families to contact principals if they would like to opt for remote learning.

The district had previously said students who travel over the holiday break should quarantine, and that remote learning would be provided for those specific students. It asked families to notify schools of their travel plans in advance to make arrangements.

The district has also expanded its plans for free testing events. One was held the morning of Dec. 30, at Montclair High School. Another will be Friday, Dec. 31, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Wally Choice Center in Glenfield Park, at 45 Maple Ave.

Families are asked to bring insurance cards, if they have them, and identification.

Louis is a two-decade-plus New Jersey reporter and editor who believes a community news organization serves its audience best by embracing values of inclusion, equity and solutions-focused journalism....