Superintendent Eileen Shafer’s team unveiled a school re-opening plan for the Paterson Public Schools in a nearly four-hour long presentation to the school board on Monday.
Shafer’s plan states students will wear masks in classrooms and observe six feet social distancing. Students will be separated from each other by partitions. Each homeroom will be divided into three groups:
- First group will come in for in-person instructions on Mondays and Wednesdays.
- Second group will come in for in-person instructions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Both groups will be attending classes virtually on Fridays.
- Third group will be entirely remote. This group is to accommodate parents, who opt to keep their children at home. A district survey found 25 percent of parents will not send their children when schools reopen.
Each in-person class will have no more than 15 students, said officials. Social distancing will be enforced in the hallways.
Students will be given two 15-minute periods, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to get some relief from wearing masks the entire day.
“Why the 15 minutes mask break?” asked longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges. He suggested that 15-minute window could lead to student getting exposed to the virus. He also asked if students will be talking during the mask break.
Shafer said the duration of the break period is arbitrary.
“I don’t know if you’ve worn a mask for an extended period of time, but you do need a break and children probably more than adults,” answered Shafer. “When you give students a break and they could take the mask off, you’ll still have the partitions. It’s really a quiet time. We don’t want talking because you don’t have the mask on and talking or singing could transmit the virus.”
Shafer said the district may end up revising the 15 minutes to 7.
Students and staff, who are suspected to have Covid-19, will be moved to an isolation area inside the school building, officials said.
Students being bussed to schools will also have to observe social distancing.
“We’re limiting capacity on buses,” said Lisa Vainieri-Marshall, director of student assignment services. Passenger capacity will be reduced by half or more, she said. For example, a 54-passanger vehicle will limit capacity to 22 students. Students will be required to wear mask at all times in the bus, she said.
Staff members seeking to work remotely will need present a doctor’s note, said assistant superintendent Luis Rojas. He said some accommodation will be made for older staff and people with chronic conditions, both groups are at higher risk of dying from virus complications.
Rojas said the district is also looking to have substitute teachers assigned to each school building. He said this would limit their circulation and reduce exposure if they become infected.
“If there is a problem it’s contained within that building,” said Rojas.
Lunch and breakfast
Students in grades pre-k through 8 will be served breakfast in the classroom. They will be served lunch in the cafeteria. Six feet distance will be observed and sitting capacity will be limited at the cafeteria. Cafeteria floors will be marked to make it easier for students to observe social distancing while in line. Tables will be arranged in a way to accommodate social distancing, said district officials during the presentation.
For 9-12 grades, students will be served “grab and go’ breakfast. For lunch principals will create a schedule to use cafeteria with students observing social distancing and mask wearing rules.
Lunch periods will be 20 minutes.
Students will be given meals at the end of the school day for the next day. Students in the remote-only group will be able to pick up their meals at their neighborhood schools.
Student and staff without face covering will be given masks at the entrance. Students and staff will have to complete an online survey every day. Survey asks whether the person has symptoms of Covid-19. If they answer “yes” to any of the survey questions they are barred from entering school and have to return home to quarantine.
Signage will be installed inside and outside of the schools to encourage staff and students to take steps to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus. Hand sanitizers will be placed in various parts of the school buildings.
“We will be cleaning and sanitizing every classroom at the end of the day,” said facilities director Neil Mapp. Outside groups will be barred from using school buildings with the exception of the city’s Division of Recreation.
School board Emanuel Capers asked about the cost of implementing all of the procedures outlined in the plan.
Business administrator Richard Matthews said the plan will cost $20 to $25 million if it is in place for a full school year.
School officials said if the district has to close again all students will be taught remotely.
“I believe the administration has put together a decent plan,” said board member Corey Teague after the presentation.
Hodges, a retired medical doctor, said he still has concerns about schools re-opening.
“I’m interested in seeing a phased in approach to this to make sure that all systems are functioning. I’d be very concerned about opening up on September 8th, with everybody coming in at one time and thinking it’s all going to work and people aren’t going to be placed in danger,” said Hodges.
School board members approved the plan in a 7-1 vote. Hodges was the sole vote against. Capers abstained.
Will the school district open in September? No one knows.
“It’s the governor’s call,” said Simmons.
Email: [email protected]