Superintendent Eileen Shafer’s school reopening plan for Paterson could put students and teachers at risk of contracting the new coronavirus, according to John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, the nearly 3,000-member strong teachers union.
McEntee outlined nine points of concern. Among them students and staff getting a cloth mask every three months, communal water fountains, lack of mandatory temperature checks, an isolation room for possibly infected people, inadequate cleaning, and lack of adequate ventilation in the buildings.
“The District’s plan is dangerous, reckless, and potentially deadly for students and staff,” said McEntee on Monday. “By reopening for live instruction, our employees may be faced to be in situations where they either bring the virus back to Paterson or equally as bad, back to their families.”
Shafer’s plan had included so-called break periods during which students would take off their masks for 15 minutes for relief. Her team quietly removed this controversial piece from the plan. The 189-page reopening plan made public makes no mention of the break periods.
“Superintendent Shafer understands the concerns of teachers and other PEA members. She answered 592 emails from PEA members, some of whom sent multiple emails. Twice, the district has asked the Passaic County Superintendent of Schools for permission to have all-virtual instruction and twice the district has been denied,” said Paul Brubaker, spokesman for the superintendent. “Superintendent Shafer and her team welcome everyone to work with them as the district keeps its commitment to serving Paterson Public Schools students and their families. The safety and health of all students and staff is always the district’s number one priority.”
The plan envisages students wearing masks in classes and observing six feet social distancing. It would also break students into three groups. Two groups would attend in-person school two days a week. And the third group would be entirely remote.
School board president Kenneth Simmons said the decision whether to have in-person school in September is governor Phil Murphy’s to make.
Simmons said even if the Board of Education passes a measure to close schools and switch entirely to remote learning the state has to approve the move.
McEntee and his members want the school district to go to a remote learning model rather than resume in-person schooling. He said school boards in Jersey City, Trenton, and Bayonne have opted for remote learning for next school year.
“Go all remote. It’s better for education and it’s safer for our staff and students,” said school board member Emanuel Capers. He said the district will have devices and internet connectivity for all students in the fall, something it did not have when schools closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. “I’ve been preaching for remote because it’s more efficient for the students to learn. If we go remote, we wouldn’t have almost 10,000 incomplete packets.”
Teachers flooded Shafer’s phone line last week to urge her to move to all-remote classes, said McEntee. He said the superintendent’s line was “out of service” temporarily as a result of the flood of calls.
McEntee is also urging mayor Andre Sayegh to lobby for remote learning for the fall. His members had endorsed Sayegh for mayor two years ago.
“I plan to meet with the Superintendent to thoroughly review her reopening plan,” said Sayegh on Monday.
Sayegh would not Sayegh if he intended to lobby for an all-remote school year. He has children enrolled in the district.
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Updated 12:43 p.m.