The head of the Paterson teachers’ union is urging superintendent Eileen Shafer and the school board to take the precautionary step to close all schools over the potential spread of the new coronavirus.
“After consulting with my colleagues, the rank and file members of the Paterson Education Association (P.E.A.) and discussing current COVID-19 response plans with our Union’s representative on the Superintendent’s Task Force, I believe that now is the time to close our schools to protect the health of our students, staff, and community,” said John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, on Friday morning. “The Paterson Education Association calls on the New Jersey Department of Education and State Health Officials to cease regular operations of the school district.”
McEntee represents nearly 3,000 teachers and other staff.
“At this time, we will remain open, but we’re prepared if we have to close,” said Shafer. She said the schools will remain open until a “serious situation” arises.
“We don’t have a confirmed case. We can’t just close without a case,” said school board president Kenneth Simmons.
Passaic County has a single confirmed case of Covid-19, according to state health officials. Paterson has had no positive cases. An emergency room doctor in St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center tested presumptive positive for the new coronavirus last week; however, he is a resident of Teaneck.
Simmons pointed out the district faces difficulties in providing remote instructions to students. Not all district students have computer devices and internet connectivity at home. He also pointed out the district’s network may not be able to handle the increased traffic.
“Children are less affected, but they can carry the virus,” said Simmons. He said closing schools can have the reverse effect. For example, youngsters who are left with elderly grandparents or relatives by working parents could end up infecting the vulnerable population.
“I do not see a reason for school closure,” said health officer Paul Persaud, who has a background in epidemiology.
Shafer said the district is having a half-day today to prepare lessons and instructional packets in case the district has to close schools due to Covid-19. She said district staff have been disinfecting and sanitizing the schools at all touch points every night.
Shafer is also putting together a meal distribution plan in partnership with the Paterson fire department in case the schools have to close. Majority of Paterson students come from low-income households.
Outside use of district facilities has been suspended, said Shafer.