About 900 Paterson students return to the classroom for the first time in 15 months
Students in Paterson have returned to the classroom for the first time this school year. But the move to resume in-person learning this late in the school year does not come without controversy.
About 900 special-education students returned to the classroom on Tuesday. The district has 24,000 students overall.
“As I went around to see them, I haven’t seen more happier children than the ones that I just saw today,” said Paterson School Superintendent Eileen Shafer.
Shafer toured a few of the schools, including the New Roberto Clemente School, Martin Luther King Junior School, the Dale Avenue School and Public School 15. She immediately addressed safety concerns, while also reminding the public that the district received $19 million in federal funding to help prepare.
“We have air purifiers, we have air scrubber, we have air blasters. Face masks for everybody – disposable if you want to do a double-mask. Face shields, gowns, hand sanitizer in every classroom,” Shafer said.
The Paterson Education Association has been critical of the physical conditions in about 17 schools in the city. The union recently posted a photo of a dead rat, dirty water, bugs and more as the district prepared to bring back the students.
“This school, the AC not working. Mold is still waiting for testing and I don’t think that’s a good environment for our students and personnel,” said Paterson Councilman Luis Velez
Velez says that he supports the teachers. He says that be believes – as does the union – that students shouldn’t have returned to school until September.
There has also long been concern about ventilation in the schools. Shafer says, "We have changed the air filters. Tell me where we didn't, and we will certainly address it."
"We believe that all of the filters have been checked. That's on a monthly basis, we do check filters,” says facilities manager Neil Mapp.
Shafer says that she is getting support from members of the clergy in Paterson. Rev. Randall Lassiter said to Shafter in a statement, "You have been unfairly attacked. All of the progress and good effort that you have made have been trampled upon."
Students who attend in person will be finishing their school day at 1:30 p.m.
The school year ends on June 24. Summer school will soon begin and, as of now, only the middle schoolers will be remote.
During the pandemic, Paterson had a high positive rate of coronavirus, while there has been a low vaccination rate.