After being closed for more than a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Paterson school district will be fully prepared to reopen in-person learning for its nearly 30,000 students on May 3, said superintendent Eileen Shafer on Monday afternoon.
Shafer said there will be “layers of protection” to minimize the spread of the virus inside the district’s more than 50 school buildings. Students and staff will be required to wear masks and observe six feet social distancing rule. Students will receive tri-fold partitions for desks in classrooms. Windows will be kept open when classes are in session and offices are occupied. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed in every classroom, building entrance, and outside bathrooms.
Other so-called layers include:
- Every classroom will be equipped with an Active Pure ionic air purifier for “continuous surface decontamination and air purification in real-time, using superoxide molecules and hydro-peroxides that destroy contaminants on surfaces and in the air.” The device is proven to eliminate common airborne and surface contaminants including viruses like the SAR-CoV-2 Coronavirus, swine flu and bacteria, mold, fungi, volatile organic compounds, smoke, allergens, and odors, according to the district.
- MERV-11 air filters will be installed in HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) units “wherever possible.”
- Air Scrubbers will be used in classrooms and offices that do not have windows for air circulation. They have HEPA filters.
- Teachers will be provided disinfectant spray for personal use.
“With the several layers of protection in place, I am confident everything will be in order for our school buildings to reopen on May 3rd. Our Facilities Department and Security Department staff have been working to ensure all schools are ready to open,” said Shafer.
But the teachers’ union has raised concerns about safety inside the buildings.
John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union, wants the district to let his team conduct “safety inspections” in advance of re-opening the schools. He has more than 200 union delegates trained and prepared to inspect the schools to ensure they have the needed equipment and ventilation to ensure students and staff do not get sick after they return for in-person schooling.
“Windows are not opening. The buildings are a mess,” said McEntee. “Look, if the schools are ready and the school buildings are in pristine condition and they have all the things that they have advertised to ameliorate the spread of the virus, the association wouldn’t necessarily be opposed.”
McEntee said union officials were ready to begin inspections last week.
Shafer said union officials will be allowed to conduct safety inspections on April 21 and 22. But the union wants access earlier.
“If we could do walkthroughs sooner, we would. If we were ready today, we would open schools for in-person instruction and not wait until May 3rd,” said Shafer.
McEntee said conducting the inspections this late will leave little time for the district to adequately address defects uncovered during the walk throughs.
“That leaves at least ten days,” said school board president Kenneth Simmons. He said Neil Mapp, facilities director, informed him that’s plenty of time to correct issues. “It’s enough time for them to address it.”
Shafer has also launched an effort to vaccinate teachers and staff members before re-opening for in-person classes. Simmons said approximately 2,000 staff have been inoculated against Covid-19. That’s half of the district’s employees.
McEntee pointed out Shafer had initially said the district would decide whether to re-open in-person schooling in mid-April, but moved the decision date to March 31.
Simmons said the decision to re-open schools is also being driven by state exams. He said parents can still opt-in for remote learning. He said a survey that was conducted shows half of parents want their children back in school while the other half prefer remote learning.
“It’s literally split, 50-50,” said Simmons.
Simmons said he did not want to wait until September to begin the process to reopen schools for in-person learning. Governor Phil Murphy has said he does not want remote learning options in September.
“It’s kind of like a soft opening to see what works and what doesn’t work. I don’t think people are going to get used to the new norm until they actually have to begin practicing them,” said Simmons.
School board members will discuss re-opening in-person schooling on Wednesday. Simmons said a previously approved resolution gives the superintendent the authority to reopen the schools.