Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely — and from where we sit, the union has all the power in Montclair’s school system. Or depending on whom you ask, the superintendent or the mayor are in control on any given day. 

All we know is that we do not have any power. We have no information, only whispers and rumors, mostly on social media. To hear them, we have to vacillate between four different Facebook groups to piece together the information. We share, debate endlessly and mostly complain in our digital echo chamber. And we continue to ask why the union doesn’t have a town hall to explain their position and invite dialogue — something they should use their power to do.

We watched elementary students outside our windows wearing backpacks, masks, walking to the bus in masks, knowing they were smiling underneath. We anxiously awaited news about opening our middle schools or high school and finally got a succinctly worded communication that middle schools were reopening May 10. Even without any details, we celebrated, we planned, we brought medical forms to the nurse’s office and considered rolling back bedtimes. When the information arrived, the lengthy handbook revealed that students will be in school for a total of four hours a week.

We are still awaiting answers, accountability, transparency, collaborative decision making, creative thinking, and understanding of the science and advice from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization. We can’t find any evidence that supports keeping kids out of school, but we have plenty of evidence that demonstrates its detriment to kids’ mental health and ability to learn.

We are waiting for people to fall in love with the problem. And if that means accepting that teachers are scared of transmission even after being vaccinated and that Montclair is using the six-foot guideline for separation of students instead of the 3-feet one that corresponds with our transmission rates, then let’s use gyms, auditoriums and cafeterias or the Glenfield Middle School Planetarium. Maybe toss the curriculum out and focus on something else entirely; certainly there is plenty to learn from this year. That, we believe the superintendent has the power to do. 

What we need is the power to get kids off screens, into a school-type environment where they can see peers, remember how to stay organized and engaged without tabbing over to YouTube and staring at their phones while pretending to listen to the 47th Zoom call.

We hope we are not waiting in September, because that would just be nonsensical, but so is reopening all businesses in the Tri-State Area and leaving our kids in limbo. In Montclair, children are being left behind and no one with the power to change it is taking notice.

Allison Klimerman and Mark Davis

Editor’s Note: While Montclair middle schools are slated to reopen for hybrid learning with six feet of separation between students, school officials said this week they’ll be exploring the possibility of a plan for three feet of separation — allowing for more students in a classroom at once. No revised plan had been announced at the time of this post's publication.  


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