This past Friday, 30 Montclair Public School District students arrived at school for their first day of live instruction. These students are among the most vulnerable in the district and attend a Applied Behavioral Analysis classroom, a therapy intended for students on the severe end of the autism spectrum.
Just one problem: Their teachers didn’t show up.
Tapinto reports that teachers felt the decision, made the evening before, was potentially dangerous and teachers were blaming Montclair leadership for “lack of direction and transparency regarding safety precautions. Before Friday the district was all-remote. An NJEA spokesman said, “These students are medically fragile, often non-verbal, and often not able to don masks or PPE (personal protective equipment) within their comfort zones adding to the duress of an already stressful situation.” She added that the Montclair Education Association voted Thursday night to not show up because members believe the decision to restart school for those 30 students is “irresponsible.”
So, instead, 30 students with autism were greeted by substitutes.
On Friday Superintendent Jonathan Bonds wrote in a letter to the entire school community, noting, “we welcomed ABA students to Bullock School on Thursday and Friday. Families and students reported having a positive experience. We are delighted to be able to return our most vulnerable learners to an in-person environment.” (It’s unclear if the students showed up on Thursday or Friday.)
In addition to more information and transparency, the special education teachers are also demanding that the district revise students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s), a request that will take a long time to complete. Here’s Petal Robinson, president of the Montclair Education Association:
“The MEA has presented our concerns to the administration several times and still we have received nothing. Our requests to have our medically fragile and special needs students reevaluated for their IEPs and 504 plans, to accommodate these changes has gone unanswered. Our requests for the safety documentation of the very buildings the Superintendent deemed the ventilation to be inadequate, has gone unanswered. Our request to have the questions and concerns of staff addressed, has gone unanswered.”
Here’s the entire letter from MEA to Montclair school leadership:
On October 5, 2020, the district notified the Montclair Education Association that the district intended to bring staff members and students of the Applied Behavior Analysis program back for in-person learning at the Bullock School on October 12, running contrary to the expected November return date that was announced in August. Despite repeated requests for more information, the superintendent and board of education failed to respond. The Association requested specifically what precautions have been made regarding health and safety. Instead, the district issued a revised re-entry plan, which continued to be vague about certain procedures and requirements. When pressed for more clarity, the Association’s requests were met with silence.
The Applied Behavior Analysis program provides services to students identified as special education with the most accommodations needed. These students often have severe medical constraints, many are non-verbal, and may be unable to wear masks or other personal protective equipment. The district’s re-entry plan provides students with a specific waiver from the district’s medical team, however the evaluations of whether a student could or could not wear a mask were made by teaching staff.
“What is most alarming, is the decision of the district to begin an in-person instruction re-entry plan with our most vulnerable student population without sufficient planning, training of staff in Covid-19 protocols, or communication,” said Petal Robertson, Montclair Education Association President. “The MEA has presented our concerns to the administration several times and still we have received nothing. Our requests to have our medically fragile and special needs students reevaluated for their IEPs and 504 plans, to accommodate these changes has gone unanswered. Our requests for the safety documentation of the very buildings the Superintendent deemed the ventilation to be inadequate, has gone unanswered. Our request to have the questions and concerns of staff addressed, has gone unanswered.”
Robertson went on to say, “We are not just concerned for our ABA students and teachers but the entire Montclair school district population. School reopening during a pandemic should be done in a series of safe, thoughtful, and collaborative steps that are explicitly communicated to those that are meant to undertake them. It is irresponsible to simply ask parents if they would like to send their child back to return for in-person instruction without being honest and transparent regarding the safety of the school buildings and the effectiveness of the academic plans.”
At this point, the members of the ABA staff, with the full support of the Montclair Education Association, have continued remote instruction with their students.