MONTCLAIR, NJ - A class-action lawsuit has been filed in Federal Court against the Montclair School District after teachers and staff refused to return to in-person instruction, according to documents.
Eight families filed last week, after retaining attorney Keri Donohue Avellini.
Avellini is also the attorney representing families suing the South Orange-Maplewood School district, where she is the parent of a special needs student in the South Orange-Maplewood School district. In the separate suit, families allege members are conducting an illegal strike by refusing to return to classrooms. Like Montclair, the South Orange-Maplewood School district is also separately suing the teachers union, after members refused to return to classrooms.
Since March of 2020, Montclair educators have been teaching classes remotely. The lawsuit alleges that the circumstances have denied their children the right to an effective education.
On February 18, the group of Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in United States Federal Court, for the District of New Jersey. Named as defendants in the suit are the Montclair School District, the Board of Education and the Superintendent.
Causes of action in the suit cite various violations of constitutional rights (both state and federal) denying students their right to an education (in-person learning), whereas, the lawsuit seeks declaratory relief and injunction from the Judge for schools be re-opened for in-person learning 5 days per week immediately.
The attorney for the Plaintiffs are representing them pro bono. Avellini is also a parent of a special-ed elementary student in the SOMA case.
“With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, defendants have effectively put the interests of the children they serve dead last,” the lawsuit states.
“With their arbitrary rules that fly in the face of the recommendations of experts across different disciplines, the children of the district have been deprived of their right to an education. Sadly, there has been no one to speak for our children over the last 12 months as they silently suffered with remote learning. This lawsuit seeks to remedy the situation on their behalf.”
Montclair students were set to return to in-person learning on January 25. However, the district changed course after the Montclair Education Association union informed the superintendent of their refusal to return to work until demands were met. Without the set amount of staff to man the schools, Montclair schools were forced to remain remote.
Steve Baffico, one of the parents filing the suit, is a spokesperson for the group. He said, “Importantly, our lawsuit forcefully creates an active voice and a seat at the negotiating table for Plaintiffs to act on behalf of Montclair families, students, those with special needs, those experiencing challenging circumstances as a result of continued remote learning, and those who have been left far behind as a result of no visible prospect for return to in-person learning. The children are the most critical constituent yet have not had a voice and/or an advocate to this point to affect an outcome in their favor. Our suit provides that voice and creates an active role for us in finding a resolution and getting the schools open for in-person learning.”
The lawsuit has been brought on the heels of the district's own litigation against the MEA, after members refused to return for a hybrid learning schedule in January. However, MEA leaders have maintained that until they are provided proof that buildings are safe, they will not return to in-person learning.