Contingent on Trust: MEA and Board of Ed Must Decide How to Bring Back Elementary Students | #Education

MONTCLAIR, NJ – The Montclair Education Association (MEA) and Board of Education (BOE) agreed on the day of their lawsuit to open elementary schools on April 12 for in-person learning, according to multiple news outlets.

Both sides have yet to release a public statement on the decision, and details such as building cleaning products to be used, entry and dismissal protocols, and a bus contract have not been determined. Members from the two parties will also conduct another walk-through of the seven buildings on March 22.

The current settlement is based on the expectation that BOE provides the MEA with this information. However, there has been no reported mention of an updated EI engineering evaluation that the MEA has been requesting since January. 

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“In the beginning of the meeting with Dr. Ponds and his senior administrative staff, the MEA requested documentation regarding classroom readiness. This documentation was not provided …” wrote the union in a statement on Jan. 22. “… the business administrator sent over a document that listed which rooms would receive air purifiers. This was not the engineer’s report Dr. Ponds referred to in the January 21st article in the Montclair Local, rather it was a PDF document created by the district.”

As of now, the district’s website displays the same ventilation assessment of elementary schools that was posted in January. 

The BOE’s suit, which was filed against the MEA in February, accused the MEA of conducting a strike by repeatedly refusing to return to hybrid learning when teacher strikes are illegal under the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act. 

The debate on how and when to return to in-person learning has been largely contingent on the trust the MEA has in the Board of Ed. According to the union’s Feb. 2 statement, Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds did not abide by their confidentiality agreement during mediation. In his own Feb. 2 message, he presented various options for a reopening plan that might have been brought up during the mediation process. 

“His promise that schools are ready is a hollow one … he repeatedly violates our trust, this very message ‘Weekly Community Message No. 8’ is a clear indication of his complete lack of credibility,” said the MEA in their statement. 

At the same time, however, the MEA accused Dr. Ponds of being “too single-minded to talk with us and come to a resolution” after mediation had started. 

Trust, according to President of the MEA Petal Robertson, was an issue even before COVID-19 threw the district a curveball. 

“I had three different job offers before I decided to take a position with Montclair Public Schools … It wasn’t the highest paying district, but it was a diverse and creative district,” wrote Robertson in an article published on the National Education Association’s website last year. “Things started to change. The district began to chip away at all of the things that made the Montclair schools great […] District morale was terrible and distrust started to build.”

It now seems that both parties have taken a first step to mend this distrust. 

TAPinto staff has reached out to Petal Robertson and President of the Board Latifah Jannah for comment, with no response. 


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