By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Jacklyn Rider’s three sons hadn’t attended a Montclair public school class in person in a year and a month. No one had. 

But Monday, April 12, yellow school buses were seen driving around Montclair for the first time since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic — since schools shut in March 2020 for what officials thought at the time might be as little as two weeks. Crossing guards stood on duty at crosswalks and street corners. Parents and students lined up outside school doors. 

Rider’s oldest son, a fourth grader at Bradford Elementary School, doesn’t usually like going to school — but Monday, he was happy to be heading back. He saw friends he hadn’t seen in more than a year.

And then school let out.

“Immediately [he was] like, ‘Well, that was fast,’” Rider said. Her two younger sons, both second graders at Bradford, enjoyed the day as well — they were happy about being able to go to the gym for snack time. 

The Riders were among 1,971 elementary school students — or roughly 75% of the elementary school population — planning to return this week for a hybrid schedule, according to figures the district released to Montclair Local Monday after a public records request. New Jersey allows parents to keep students home, receiving remote instruction, even if their districts are planning some or all in-person learning this school year, though Gov. Phil Murphy has said that likely won’t be the case in 2021-22 except to accommodate specific health needs. 

Attention parents: We'd like to hear from you about the first day back. Contact roll@montclairlocal.news today to speak about your family's experience.

Overall, the district is expecting 3,868 — or 62% — of students across all grade levels to return, the figures show. In January, before an aborted attempt to return students to schools, just 53% of students expected to return.

According to a demographic breakdown the district released at the time, majorities of students of every racial and ethnic group other than white students expected to stay remote. The figures released to Montclair Local this week don’t include similar demographic breakdowns. 

But they do show the strongest preference for returning is among the elementary students — considered by public health experts to be among those least at risk from the coronavirus.  

At the middle school level 971 — or 66% — plan to return for hybrid learning. It’s only at the high school level that a majority — 1,140, or 57% — expect to stay remote.

Montclair’s middle schools and high school remain closed, but the school district has indicated that those schools will reopen this spring as well. No date has yet been announced.

Students in each of the schools will attend classes on a rotating schedule, with “Mounties” attending class on Mondays and Tuesdays and “Bulldogs” attending class on Thursdays and Fridays. 

Rider said the teachers and students seemed happy Monday. She said everyone she saw was wearing masks and exiting buildings through assigned doors.

The district posted photos of the first day of school on its website, showing Superintendent Jonathan Ponds taking his own temperature on a visit to Nishuane School, and students in classrooms with desks spaced 6 feet apart.

“The rain could not dampen the spirits of the pre-K-5 students and staff who returned to buildings for the first day of in-person/hybrid learning,” the district wrote on the photo page. 

Ponds told Montclair Local that overall, the day went well.

“Our kids were wonderful. They had their masks on throughout the buildings,” he said.

The Wu Family poses in front of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
The Wu Family poses in front of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Ponds said there had been some issues with bus service — a few buses ran late, and one missed a stop — that have been referred to the district’s transportation office. He said daily meetings with staff and administrators would look at other adjustments, including to the screening process at school doors.

He credited students, staff and administrators for cooperation — as well as Mountainside hospital, which in a partnership with the district, township government and Montclair Education Association recently vaccinated about 200 Montclair teachers

Ponds’ praise included the MEA, which recently found itself the target of a lawsuit over plans to return to school. The district itself delayed plans to begin a hybrid schedule in September and November, citing coronavirus safety issues, eventually setting a January date. When the MEA’s members refused to return in January — saying they weren’t yet convinced buildings were safe or the district had been transparent enough — the school system sued, alleging an illegal teachers strike.

However, the lawsuit was settled in Essex County Superior Court on March 9. Under the terms of the agreement, the schools would reopen on April 12, as long as the district provided the MEA with documentation on health and safety procedures, and steps to improve ventilation in aging school buildings. 

First day back at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
First day back at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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The MEA and the statewide New Jersey Education Association haven’t yet returned messages from Montclair Local seeking comment on the first day back.

The return also comes as the district faces a federal lawsuit from eight families seeking a return to full-time in-person instruction.

As of April 12, 496 New Jersey school districts were operating on a hybrid model, Murphy said Monday. Another 165 districts were on all in-person learning; 118 remained on all-remote learning; and 32 were using a combination of remote, hybrid and in-person learning. 

"There is now unmistakable movement back into our classrooms. And I know that for students and educators and for moms and dads and countless families, this is a tremendous positive sign and a great relief,” Murphy said. 

Families walk to the entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Families walk to the entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Families wait in line to enter Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Families wait in line to enter Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Fourth grade teacher Avril Fagan greets students at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Fourth grade teacher Avril Fagan greets students at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Maya Sadow poses on her first day back at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Maya Sadow poses on her first day back at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Third grade teacher Kate Pastorino greets students outside of Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Third grade teacher Kate Pastorino greets students outside of Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Edgemont students run together on their first day back at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Edgemont students run together on their first day back at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Lindbergh and Alexander Cox at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Lindbergh and Alexander Cox at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Families wait in line at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Families wait in line at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Students at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Students at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Edie and Winnie Murphie at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Edie and Winnie Murphie at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Crossing guard Eileen Gauer is ready for her first day back at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Crossing guard Eileen Gauer is ready for her first day back at Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Balloons and signs decorate Edgemont School's entrance, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Balloons and signs decorate Edgemont School's entrance, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Edgemont families wait to enter school on their first day back, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Edgemont families wait to enter school on their first day back, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Students wait in line at the side entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Students wait in line at the side entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Teacher Jacqueline Reyes greets students at the entrance of Nishuane School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Teacher Jacqueline Reyes greets students at the entrance of Nishuane School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Teacher Kate Pastorino greets Lynn Johansen's dog, Hazel, outside of Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Teacher Kate Pastorino greets Lynn Johansen's dog, Hazel, outside of Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Caellum and Quwan Armour wait for school to begin, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Caellum and Quwan Armour wait for school to begin, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Vikram and Sunaina Sood on Sunaina's first day back at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Vikram and Sunaina Sood on Sunaina's first day back at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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From left, teacher Kathy Hart, MHS Principal Jeffrey Freeman and Edgemont's interim principal, Michael Chiles, wait to greet students at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
From left, teacher Kathy Hart, MHS Principal Jeffrey Freeman and Edgemont's interim principal, Michael Chiles, wait to greet students at Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Families head to the main entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Families head to the main entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Students wait in line at the side entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Students wait in line at the side entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Students enter Nishuane School on their first day back, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Students enter Nishuane School on their first day back, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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A staff member walks a student to the front entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
A staff member walks a student to the front entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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A staff member checks temperatures, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
A staff member checks temperatures, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Edgemont Montessori School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Edgemont Montessori School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Consuelo Reinitz adjusts jacket of her son, Lucas, before he enters Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Consuelo Reinitz adjusts jacket of her son, Lucas, before he enters Edgemont School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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A teacher greets students, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
A teacher greets students, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Balloons decorate the side entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Balloons decorate the side entrance of Watchung School, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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Phys ed teacher Mike Risimini greets students, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Phys ed teacher Mike Risimini greets students, April 12, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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