School officials reported an increase in COVID-19 cases at Montclair High School, Buzz Aldrin Middle School and Hillside and Watchung elementary schools this week and have implemented 10-day masking requirements for the high school and Buzz Aldrin.

Watchung and Hillside schools set masking requirements for one classroom each, according to an announcement made by schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds on Friday, May 6. 

Over a seven-day period, April 29 to May 5, 36 students and three staff members tested positive at the high school. At Buzz Aldrin, 22 students and three staff members tested positive. 

At the elementary schools during the same period, Hillside reported 15 students and two staff members with COVID-19, while Watchung reported 16 students and one staff member testing positive, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“This past week, the high school, Buzz Aldrin Middle School and Hillside and Watchung elementary schools experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases,” Ponds wrote. “When that happens, the school notifies the district lead nurse, who in turn consults with the Montclair Health Department as recommended by the New Jersey Health Department latest guidelines. 

“In consultation with the Montclair Health Department, it is decided whether universal masking or masking in affected classrooms for a short-term, 10-day period will be necessary.”  

Overall, the district dashboard reflects 744 student and 156 staff cases since the start of the school year, with the high school accounting for more than any other building at 256 cases. Glenfield Middle School had the second-highest, at 90 cases.  

But those numbers are incomplete. The district’s practices for in-class coronavirus testing have varied over time, with one vendor contract allowed to expire in December and another contract approved in March with testing yet to begin. 

Ponds and Montclair Board of Education President Latifah Jannah have not yet responded to emails sent Monday asking about testing.

The district does provide PCR and rapid antigen testing through Medi Mobile on Tuesdays and Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the George Innes Annex.

The dashboard also may not reflect all cases found through home testing or other cases found independently of the schools, if not reported to the district.

Townwide reported cases have also risen over the last two weeks, with 30 cases on May 5 alone. From April 22 to 28, reported cases were 98. From April 29 to May 5, that number rose to 128, according to data provided by the county.  

On March 7, masks became optional for students and staff at Montclair schools. Montclair lifted its in-school mask requirement the same day New Jersey first allowed schools to set their own masking policies. A township-set mandate for masks in most indoor spaces, put in place over a winter surge in cases, ended Feb. 28.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the district has ongoing in-school COVID-19 testing.