Teachers and Paterson school district at odds over reopening schools for in-person learning | Paterson Times

Teachers and Paterson school district at odds over reopening schools for in-person learning


The Paterson school district spent nearly $20 million over the past months to get ready to reopen for in-person learning, but schools buildings remain closed and students are still attending virtual classes.

That’s because of an ongoing dispute between the school district and the teachers’ union.

Superintendent Eileen Shafer has said the district is prepared to welcome students back for in-person learning. Her team last Wednesday gave a series of presentations stating the district has thermal scanners, masks, air purifiers and air scrubbers, face shields for teachers and staff, partitions for students, plexiglass desk shields for teachers, hand sanitizers stations throughout schools, signage nudging students to follow safety procedures, touchless hydration systems, and classroom disinfecting procedures in place to reopen.

But at the end of the 3-hour and 30-minute meeting, Shafer and the school board did not make a decision. 162 speakers, mostly teachers, signed up to speak at the meeting. They were opposed to reopening schools – many wanted the district to return to in-person learning in September.

“With only weeks to go until the end of the school year, there is no educational benefit to disrupting the routine the students are accustomed to.  Instead of running the risk of increasing exposure, let’s focus our efforts on making the virtual instruction the best it can while addressing the outstanding remediation issues and focus on a successful return in September,” said John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union, on Monday.

McEntee said most school buildings are not ready to reopen. His team inspected the buildings and found 20 buildings were unsafe to reopen. 26 were not ready to reopen. And just 10 could reopen with strict social distancing rules, according to the union’s report.

In some cases, air filters were not installed, and some had not been changed in months. Plexiglass for classrooms were missing. And many schools had problems with opening windows. Shafer’s team said the district installed air scrubbers in classrooms without windows. But the union found some classrooms had neither windows nor air scrubbers.

Classrooms in some schools also did not have air purifiers, according to the union’s report. But district officials last week said they had air purifiers for every classroom. Union officials were not allowed to inspect ventilation systems at the schools, according to the report.

McEntee wanted to present the report to the Board of Education. He said the district wouldn’t allow him.

School board president Kenneth Simmons said the union was extended an offer: have two people present for 30 minutes instead of having all union call in to speak. He said the offer was not accepted.

School board members said some of the concerns raised by the union are about facilities and have little to do with Covid-19.

“I know he released some photos, but most of that stuff is not Covid related,” said Simmons. He said the district wants to review the union’s report. “If the union found something that the district overlooked that’s Covid related then you want to address that.”

School board member Emanuel Capers said the union is showing pictures of broken wall sockets that have little to do with mitigating the spread of the virus inside the buildings.

“These are facility issues. Not Covid issues,” said Capers.

“I am disappointed to hear that the Board believes these photos have nothing to do with COVID.  As we all have learned, COVID-19 is primarily an airborne virus, manifesting itself as a respiratory infection.  The need for access to fresh air, functioning HVAC systems, and overall cleanliness is key to preventing the spread of the disease,” said McEntee. “Is the Board suggesting that these conditions—mold, leaky roofs, windows nailed shut, and the like—are acceptable for Paterson’s children, regardless of a pandemic?”

“We have more layers of protection than any other district,” said Simmons.

Capers said Paterson is “lagging behind” Newark and Jersey City, both of which have opened for in-person learning. He said schools in surrounding communities have also reopened for in-person learning.

“Our kids are getting the bad end of the stick,” said Capers. “Students need to get back into schools and get back to normalcy.”

Shafer ordered teachers to show up in-person at school buildings in September despite opposition from the union, Capers pointed out. He said the district was less prepared back then.

“The district is more prepared now,” said Capers.

Shafer twice put off the decision to reopen schools.

“The superintendent has to come up with a recommendation,” said Simmons. “It’s the superintendent’s decision.”

Shafer’s spokesman Paul Brubaker did not respond to a message for comment on Monday.

The union suggests a “soft reopening” in the summer to address issues before September. Teachers also want all ventilation issues remedied before school buildings are reopened for in-person learning.

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  • Chino Vargas

    The teachers unions are the new terrorist Group in America

    • HankMorgan

      Yeah. Because they demand that their members work and students learn in a safe environment, right? What is wrong with you? I certainly hope you don’t have school age children you’d be willing to put into these buildings.

      The real terrorism comes from the superintendent’s office. Her claim that the district has spent twenty-million dollars to prepare for reopening needs to be investigated. If only half of the schools are safe the question is, of course, where did that money go, to whom and for what?

      • Chino Vargas

        Teachers union is a joke,they have the students hostage,they dont follow the CDC,other state open month ago but is all political.

  • Titi Nina

    Capers openly admits that Staff was forced to come into unsafe buildings in September in his quote. Yes the buildings are MORE prepared than they were. Question is are they FULLY prepared to receive students and staff? Is it acceptable to be less unsafe yet not actually safe?

    • HankMorgan

      “Our kids are getting the bad end of the stick,” said Capers. “Students need to get back into schools and get back to normalcy.”
      Students get the “bad end of the stick” when they are forced into the unhealthy and unsafe classrooms Paterson Public Schools provides. This is not “normalcy.” It is insanity. It’s been going on for years. All stakeholders suffer. It’s time to change.
      As someone so intimately involved in the health of students and educators, you should know better. Since you do not you should resign your position immediately. Your values are inconsistent with providing Paterson students with a safe and efficient education.

  • Greta Mills

    Fix the schools and stop wasting money!
    Don't have select schools ready while the rest are in poor condition. A socket may not matter to Caper but that socket needs to be used so why not fix it???? Window screens torn and missing so things can be thrown out the window and hurt innocent people below. Books, scissors and other things can cause bodily damage or maybe even death depending on what is thrown out the window. Law suits will be filed because the district ignored and refused to fix the problems.
    100 degree classrooms is a safe environment??? Really.
    PPE should not be the only concern! People have allergies, asthma, & other ailments so poor air quality in the classroom and crippling heat will not help the students or the teachers.
    Covid did not cause these problems lack of building maintenance and concern over the years did. We live in a world were select schools have the best and are put on display while other schools go neglected.
    90 Delaware staff sit in air conditioned facilities. Select schools have air conditioning and central air. Other schools have no air, no windows or windows that open 2.5 inches. Some classrooms are located where no breeze can flow through the classroom. How effective will the learning or teaching be in a hot classroom with sweat dripping down your body????

    All teacher and students deserve to have the best learning environment possible! It seems to me some people don't care "All Students and All Teachers!" It is 2021 and no one should have to work or learn under poor conditions. Stop wasting money and do the right thing "Fix Everything" not some of the things.

    Stop laying blame because the district refuse to fix "all" the facilities correctly. Leaking roofs, wifi ban width, electricity, windows, screens or metal grid on windows, and proper ventilation.

    Those vents should be fixed with the proper missing coil so that it serves as a heater and air conditioner. A MERV filter should be placed in each one to help with cleaning out the air. Opening a window will not kill the virus! Air does not kill the virus!

    Do the right thing for all schools and stop this blaming back and forth. Pictues don't lie.
    Teachers don't control the spending/budget!
    Classroom teachers and students will be the only people inside an over crowded classroom. Not all classroom capacity sizes are the same. Some classroom capacities are very small while others are larger. People draw heat. There won't be 3ft or 6ft spacing. Students will be eating in close proximity of each other with no mask in classrooms (but business can't).


  • Greta Mills

    Make government accountable. More schools so students can be in a smaller classroom environment receiving the services they need to be successful.
    1 teacher to 30 & 40 students is not effective nor is it the best this country should have to offer to children who so far behind.

  • RadFAAD

    Lets be real. You teach in Paterson; its never going to be "safe".

    You need to go back or you need to be replaced.

    Its that simple.