After inspecting the ventilation systems at various school buildings, the teachers’ union made public a series of videos that claims to show broken and incorrectly installed heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and old air filters.
“Our videos, photos, and parent testimonies tell the truth about the neglect. We have uncovered broken HVAC’s, filters with dates from 2018, and HVAC units that have been installed incorrectly,” said John McEntee, Jr, president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union. “We have also discovered what appears to be doctored Indoor Air Quality Log records and instances where filthy air filters were reused with new dates marked with a Sharpie marker.”
School officials initially barred the union from conducting inspections of ventilation systems and air filters during their previous walkthroughs ahead of a proposed re-opening of school buildings on June 1 for all teachers and June 8 for special education and bilingual students. They only allowed the union to inspect the air systems after the teachers’ secured a favorable decision from a state labor commission.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer explained the problems the union uncovered at Frank Napier Academy and John F. Kennedy High School in a memorandum to the Board of Education dated March 25.
“Due to the condition of the filters at the Dr. Napier Academy, they were removed, and units shut down during the week of April 19, 2021,” read her memo. She states the Merv 8 filters were installed on May 24.
Her memo appears to undercut what she has been saying publicly. She publicly stated in March that schools would be safe and ready to re-open on May 3.
Her memo also states a “Univent” shown in a video was installed with a gap by design. Gaps are intended to recirculate air in the space while diluting it with outside air, says the memo. She states the unit was tested and is working properly.
Another video claimed to show a vent without a filter in the third-floor teacher’s room at John F. Kennedy High School. The union representative made an error and did not correctly locate the area of the filter, says the memo. A custodian inspected the univent, after watching the video, and “positively identified the filter,” states the memo.
Shafer slammed the teachers’ union in a statement on Friday for presenting a “pinhole’s perspective of building conditions” by publicizing its inspection videos.
“The NJ Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) has decided that Paterson Public Schools will open on Tuesday and it will. The point of the district allowing PEA delegates to inspect air ventilators was for them to tell us what issues they may have found and where they are. We received no such communication from the PEA leadership. Instead, they used this past week’s walkthroughs to create a few videos that give a pinhole’s perspective of building conditions and launched a social media campaign to instill fear in their members as well parents,” said Shafer. “It is shameful that the PEA works to unnecessarily heighten people’s anxieties rather than work with the district to safely bring teachers and students together in classrooms where the best learning can take place. The PEA is not telling parents the whole truth.”
Shafer noted the school district spent $19.6 million to install “several layers of protection” for a safe re-opening of school buildings.
Paterson schools have been closed since March 2020.
Union officials have pointed out the district’s facilities director Neil Mapp has been on vacation during a crucial period before the reopening, suggesting the district is not taking students’ and teachers’ safety in buildings seriously.
“I am not sure how Superintendent Shafer recovers from these pictures and videos. The information uncovered is extremely damaging to the Superintendent, her reopening plan, and places the lives of many in danger. Shafer has lost all remaining credibility and in my opinion, should resign immediately,” said McEntee.
McEntee said the union may even consider taking a vote of no confidence against Shafer in June. Shafer’s predecessor, Donnie Evans, was subject of a no confidence vote by the union a year before the state decided against renewing his contract.
Shafer’s contract with the district ends in 2022.
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