In recent months, all levels of government and the Centers for Disease Control have recommended prioritizing a return to in-person schooling. We also know that the majority of Montclair families are prepared to send their children in-person (this poll occurred even before the recent stark decline in COVID cases here and nationally). Now, I fully support family choice in this uncertain time – if, despite the data, families choose to keep their kids on screen, fine. But the lack of an alternative for the rest of us is no longer acceptable.

And yet, with tattoo parlors and yoga studios open, our classrooms remain shuttered indefinitely. Why? A “remote-only” option was prudent in the face of early uncertainty around COVID’s risk to kids, transmissibility, etc. But if there is one saving grace to this pandemic, it is the virus’ shockingly low risk to our children, especially those at the elementary level. Meanwhile, the extreme cost of remote learning is viscerally clear.

So we have clearance from all levels of elected authority. We also have literally billions of data points from the millions of kids across the majority of US schools offering in-person options: no evidence of increased community transmission or fatality rates amongst teachers. And again, blessedly low risk to children – the CDC reports a lower hospitalization and mortality rate for healthy kids than even the seasonal flu (I write this with a real fear that the Montclair Education Association will pick up on that fact and prohibit our schools from ever opening – after all, the flu is here to stay!).

So again, why are we not open? Even Chicago’s public schools – a true beacon of mediocrity! – have figured it out. But it appears that, unbeknownst to most of us until recently, the will of an elected government and a majority of our local population is insufficient. No, we await the blessing of an unelected, unaccountable interest group: the MEA. Most of us deeply desire the benefits of in-person instruction for our kids, as they languish at home and fall behind their private school counterparts and the country at large. Alas, we’ve learned the MEA will be the arbiter of such things, not our elected officials or we as parents.

And so we sit here at a loss. Send our kids to private school (local applications for 2021-22 school year anecdotally up 10x vs previous years!)?. Move to another town (with similarly dated buildings but a seemingly less intransigent union!)? Or simply put our head in our hands (and our kids on their screens)?

If I were a teacher I would proudly return to my classroom. I’d be in there, mask on, windows open (coats if needed!), fulfilling my role like the heroes teachers are. To those educators with our kids at heart, we beg you to put aside the shortcomings of all parties (the Board of Education, town government, and yes, the MEA). And work with us, the majority of Montclair parents, to give our kids a shot at what they deserve.

Tom Stults


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