By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair Kimberley Academy is aiming to bring its fourth- and fifth-graders back to campus for entirely in-person learning starting next month.

Parents who prefer to keep their children at home would still be able to opt for remote learning.

Most of MKA’s pre-K through third-grade students have been back in the classroom full-time since the start of the school year, but older students have been on a hybrid learning model — with some students in and some out of the classroom at any given time.

MKA has arranged for classroom trailers, each capable of holding about 30 students, to be set up at the private school’s middle school campus on Valley Road. MKA’s middle school campus serves grades four through eight. Thomas Nammack, MKA’s head of school, said the trailers would give students “elbow room” for social distancing.”

The trailers began to arrive on Friday, Jan. 29, Nammack said. From there, it will take between 10 days and two weeks for the trailers to be configured — with utilities and communications, and accessible ramps to be built.

The 60-by-15-foot trailers each contain two classrooms, and each classroom can accommodate 14 to 15 students. When the trailers are ready, MKA officials hope fourth- and fifth-graders will be able to return to classes for in-person learning, five days a week. “Really, what these mobile classrooms do is give us more elbow room,” Nammack said. 

It is likely that the trailers may house classes such as music and world language, though that too is also being determined, Nammack said.

Nammack said there are 61 fourth-graders in total, and 66 fifth-graders.

The details are still being worked out, but Nammack expected the fourth-graders will return on or around Feb. 10. The fifth-graders will follow at a later date. 

MKA has had hybrid learning since the beginning of the school year. 

The Montclair public schools have not yet set a new date for hybrid learning, after staff in the Montclair Education Association voted not to return for a Jan. 19 professional development day or an expected Jan. 25 return to some in-person learning for the district’s elementary schools. The MEA leadership told its members this week the district was planning to take them to court, though neither side has yet confirmed that in statements to press. As of Friday afternoon, Montclair Local is unaware of any court filing.

“For the faculty, it’s a very challenging model. It’s a little like three-dimensional chess,” Nammack said of how the hybrid model had gone. 

The move is based on findings that remote learning is especially difficult for younger students, Nammack said. MKA took the step of getting its primary grade students back into the classroom full-time earlier in the school year. 

The families of the students have all been very supportive during hybrid learning, Nammack said.

“Most of them, I think, are anxious to see when we can resume on-site operations,” Nammack said.