Under pressure from increasing Covid-19 cases and the teachers’ union, superintendent Eileen Shafer put off a decision to reopen in-person learning for New Jersey’s third biggest school district.
“My administration is committed to opening schools and providing a safe environment for our students and staff,” said Shafer on Wednesday night. She then recommended to the Board of Education to continue remote learning for nearly 30,000 students in the Paterson school district.
Shafer did not set an expiration date on remote learning, something she had done with her previous recommendations. She made her decision based on “data” and “science,” she told the board.
Cases in Paterson have been trending up over the past week.
Shafer said her team will conduct another assessment in late April or early May to decide whether to reopen the district’s more than 50 school buildings.
Earlier in the week, Shafer said the district will be ready to reopen schools on May 3. She said her team has been working to install air purifiers and other “layers of protection” to reopen for in-person learning.
Shafer had previously said her team would make a recommendation in mid-April whether to reopen schools, but then changed her mind and moved up the date by half a month.
“I would challenge the district to question why are we here tonight. We’re only here tonight because there was a special meeting called to fast track this. That’s why we’re here. This wasn’t supposed to be held until middle of April,” said John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union.
McEntee suggested Shafer tried move up her decision because she is under pressure from governor Phil Murphy’s administration. He also pointed out the elected school board should be making the decision whether to reopen school not the superintendent.
“Let me be extremely clear to the superintendent, the school board needs to make these decisions. This is no longer a state operated school district, where Trenton can make phone calls to certain people and try to influence us,” said McEntee.
McEntee and the union have argued the district’s schools are not ready to reopen for in-person learning.
Shafer, without naming McEntee or the union, claimed there was “misinformation” being disseminated about school reopening. She appeared to pick out some of the issues McEntee mentioned in his “Open letter to the Paterson community and parents on school reopening.”
McEntee said his team has been transparent and honest. He even allowed district officials to join a delegate meeting.
“So for you to say there’s misinformation, I think, couldn’t be anything more than fake news,” said McEntee addressing Shafer at the virtual meeting.
School board president Kenneth Simmons said a previous resolution approved by the Board of Education allows the superintendent to extend remote learning.
The Board of Education tabled a measure that was up for a vote to reopen schools for in-person learning.
“We want to make sure that when we return, we do it as safely as possible,” said Simmons. He said he wanted everyone – the district, the school board, and the teachers’ union – “on the same page” on reopening schools.
Paterson schools have been closed for in-person learning since March 2020.
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