Montclair is no ordinary town.
The newly elected mayor, Sean Spiller, is the No. 2 official at the statewide teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association. The president of the local teachers’ labor group, Petal Robertson, is competing for a leadership job at the association. And one of the governor’s top political strategists, Brendan Gill — an Essex County commissioner who is also the township’s Democratic chairman — lives there, as does the state’s new education commissioner, Angelica Allen-McMillan.
Montclair is also home to an array of prominent journalists, academics and television celebrities.
All this gives the battle outsize relevance in a state where the governor, a Democrat running for re-election, has repeatedly said that he wants students back in schools but has done little to require it.
On Monday night, teachers in a nearby district, South Orange-Maplewood, followed Montclair’s lead.
The teachers’ union, South Orange and Maplewood Education Association, released a letter notifying the superintendent and school board that they would no longer participate in in-person instruction. The union’s action comes only a week after schools reopened for the first time since March.
“We will continue to educate passionately but will do so from our homes until such time as temperatures are moderate enough to avoid bone-chilling working conditions in violation of minimum temperature standards and vaccines are made available to educators,” the union wrote.
Montclair’s teachers’ union has said that communication with the superintendent, Dr. Jonathan C. Ponds, has been poor. Information and reports about ventilation and other safety measures in school buildings were not provided, they said, and a meeting with union leaders was canceled, leaving them with little confidence in his assurances that the schools were safe.
The union has also noted that cases of the virus are more prevalent now than they were over the last two months, when the district delayed earlier plans to reopen.
In a slide show presentation to the superintendent, the union asked: “With case of transmissions on the steady increase, even more since the holiday breaks, is now really a good time to return to in-person instruction?”