Good evening. My name is Tessie Thomas and I am the President of the Montclair Council of PTAs (PTAC) an elected body that represents and supports the whole community.
I would like to start with the topic of mask mandates and what we learnt in the survey that we conducted. As many of you know, in the Board Meeting last week, Dr. Ponds stated that he will be reaching out to the MEA, MPA, and PTAC to seek our respective inputs before making a decision on mask mandates for the Montclair Public Schools. Given the importance of this decision, we wanted to make sure that we at PTAC provided an accurate input that reflected the views of our parents and caregivers. So we conducted a survey that asked Families to choose whether they supported masks being optional, or mandated indoors only, or mandated indoors and outdoors on school property. We distributed the survey through the respective school PTAs. As most of you know, the survey received 1,650 responses. We shared the results of the survey with Dr. Ponds and have also made it public. 62% chose optional, 32% chose indoors only, and 6% chose mask mandates to be kept indoors and outdoors. It was interesting to watch the results come in as the numbers fluctuated some during the first 500 responses, but then stabilized around the final results as the number of responses rose above 800. At 1,650 responses, we feel that the silent majority has spoken and clearly these results are a better basis to provide inputs to Dr. Ponds and the Board than the opinion of just the PTA elected officers.
In addition to the mask mandate, we also asked an optional question on what would make the respondent change their mind. We wanted to address the question raised in the last Board meeting – What has to happen for families to change their answer? So as an example, if someone chose making masks optional, what circumstances would have them go back and choose a reinstatement of mask mandate. There are some key takeaways from the responses to this second question that are worth highlighting and considering as for masks and other prevention decisions that we make in the future. In order to understand the drivers, we grouped the respondents by their responses for review. So the folks that are in the Optional Mask bucket gave multiple reasons that may change their mind, but the top responses were –
- None – there is nothing that will change their mind
- Case Count or Hospitalizations or Seriousness of Symptoms – so in other words if these became much higher or more serious than where we are today, they would change their response to presumably mask mandates again
- New Variant – which is self explanatory
- CDC or NJDOH issuing specific guidelines
The group that chose mandating masks indoors and outdoors provided the following top reasons –
- None – nothing can change their mind
- Case Count – when the cases go lower than where we are today
- Vaccination – approval for children under 5 and/or vaccination for all – that is close to 100% vaccination or even MPS mandating vaccination for all to enter the school building
- “When there is no more Covid” – an extension of the low case count and some folks expressed it also as when the pandemic has changed to an endemic.
Finally the group that chose Masks for indoors only. Their reasons are similar to the ones that chose mask mandates for indoors and outdoors, with one notable difference. “None” or nothing can change their mind was not one of the top responses. This group’s top responses include –
- Vaccination – in the form of high levels of vaccination and/or mandated vaccination and also vaccination approval for children under 5.
- Case Count
- CDC guideline
There were some notable comments that are worth highlighting. Folks pointed out the need to update the ventilation system as something that would put their mind at ease when sending their children into the buildings without masks. Another one that jumped out was to think in terms of widespread testing or screening.
It was interesting to conduct the survey and families were motivated to provide inputs and were glad that their direct viewpoint was being considered in the decision making. Thank you to the PTA Presidents for helping disseminate the survey and to all the families who responded to it.
Switching channels – to the upcoming BOE elections on Tuesday, March 8. PTAC sent out a questionnaire to all of the 9 candidates running for this election. The questionnaire was essentially a self-assessment by each candidate and I am pleased to say that every candidate took the time and responded to the questionnaire. We have published all of these responses on the PTAC website. The questions were wide ranging allowing the candidates to showcase themselves in the best light. They covered their backgrounds, their objectives, and how they would contribute to the BOE. One of the questions asked each candidate to share 3 words that captures their candidacy. This makes some good reading. Another asked them to rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 10 in volunteerism, general operations, finance and infrastructure, personnel management, collective bargaining, curriculum and instruction, community engagement, special education, and technology. There is no right answer but it is great to see where each candidate sees their strengths and what they bring to the BOE.
We are lucky to be in a community where 9 people raised their hand to take on the task of volunteering and the hard work of the BOE to shape our children’s education. Kudos and thank you to all the candidates for stepping up. And thank you for reminding us once again that we live in a community that cares deeply about our children and their education. 2 of these 9 candidates will soon be sitting here at this table. As a community we may have strong feelings about elected vs. appointed Boards, the time for debate has passed and the best thing that we can do as a community is to get engaged in this election and make sure to vote on Tuesday March 8. This is important….it is about the quality of education, the quality of life in the Montclair community, the significant capital spend decisions, and the good things that flow from it when we get all of it right. So let’s ensure to vote on Tuesday March 8 and remind our friends and neighbors to do the same. Again if you are looking to get to know the candidates better as you make your choices, the candidate profiles on the PTAC website is a great starting point.
To the remaining 7 candidates who don’t make it this time, we look forward to your continued contributions to the community – maybe you will consider any of the fine PTAs at our schools to channel your energy and leadership and of course PTAC is always a great way to give back to the community.
The last topic I want to bring up tonight is the need to get parents and caregivers back in the school buildings. The value of the support and enrichment that these volunteers can provide to the teachers and the students is indisputable. Also, for two years we have had concerts, plays, and performances either on Zoom or in empty auditoriums. Given the decision on the mask mandate, it is time to get back to some normalcy. I know that this is in the works and I urge you to expedite this as it is important for all – the teachers, the students, and the families. It is also about community support at a time when more help is needed in the buildings.