After much to-do, the Paterson Education Association (PEA) was finally permitted to exercise its right under law to conduct safety walkthroughs of all district buildings on April 21 and 22. While we did not expect to find everything in perfect working order, we were shocked at the level of disrepair that awaited us, making it abundantly clear the district has a long, hard road ahead.
Throughout the walkthroughs, superintendent Eileen Shafer prohibited building administrators from allowing PEA representatives access to Univents and HVAC systems, not to mention the union was unable to verify if the units were even fitted with the proper filters. Similarly, Ms. Shafer refused to release the maintenance logs for many of the same units, leaving us unable to determine when the last time the filter was changed. Many buildings are still waiting for proper filters for units to be delivered, and they had not arrived as of the end of April. Not to mention, it’s clear that there are serious, ongoing roof leaks — resulting in a pervasive mold problem –which is unacceptable at any time, let alone during a pandemic. But don’t just take our word for it; visit the PEA website at https://www.patersonea.org/walkthrough-photos/ to see it for yourself. We believe a picture a worth a thousand words.
As we have said time and again, the one thing we refuse to do is to compromise the health and safety of those returning to our district’s school buildings. Unfortunately, the results of these walkthroughs indicate that—despite what the administrative leadership claims to the contrary— little to no remediation within our school buildings has been completed in the last 13 months. The issues that exist are long-standing and varied, and clearly indicate that Paterson is not able to return to in-person instruction anytime soon.
For these reasons, we urge the Paterson Board of Education to keep Paterson’s school buildings closed for the remainder of the school year. We implore them to heed the results of the safety walkthroughs and to not reopen until all outstanding issues are addressed. We understand it will not be a popular decision, but making the hard calls never are. Given all the outstanding remediation issues our district faces, we are counting on them to be the voice of reason and do what is right to protect all within our school community.
We also urge parents and community residents to make their voices heard at this Wednesday’s special Board of Education meeting. Members of the public who want to participate in the public comment portion should register in advance by emailing [email protected] no later than 4:30 p.m. on April 28. In the email, participants must state their name, address, and the phone number they will be calling from to be added to the speaker’s list.
Ensuring that Paterson’s schools provide the best possible environment for its students to thrive is going to take time, money, and our collective efforts. Our union stands ready to work with the administration to protect Paterson’s students and community—as well as stands ready to fight for what we know is right—until it’s safe to reopen. After all: Nothing matters more than the health and safety of our students, our staff, and our community.
Written by John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union.