City school district teachers on Thursday began removing transparent student desk partitions installed to combat COVID-19, but the Board of Education will keep a mask mandate in place at least until May.
The school board on Wednesday night voted 4-3 to get rid of the partitions but continue requiring masks, affirming a plan that Superintendent Eileen Shafer unveiled last month.
The district said most of the 998 parents and 2,507 employees who responded to a survey last month said they wanted the mask mandate to remain in place. Statistics presented by Shafer on Wednesday night showed that 65% of parents and 62% of employees favored keeping the masks.
Shafer said city education officials reached their decision “after long and careful consideration.”
“They have considered the scientific data, the input from many stakeholders and the latest guidance from public health officials,” Shafer said.
Besides maintaining the mask mandate, the superintendent said, the district is taking precautions including social distancing, temperature scanning and avoiding large gatherings.
The board members who voted in favor of requiring masks into May were President Kenneth Simmons, Vice President Nakima Redmon, Oshin Castillo and Jonathan Hodges. Those opposed were Vincent Arrington, Emanuel Capers and Dania Martinez. Two members did not vote during the virtual meeting: Manny Martinez and Corey Teague.
“I think it’s time to make the masks optional,” said Arrington.
Shafer noted during Wednesday’s meeting that other cities in New Jersey — including Newark, New Brunswick, East Orange and Plainfield — have continued requiring masks even though Gov. Phil Murphy has lifted the statewide mandate.
27% of Paterson children ages 5 through 11 and 85% of those 12 through 17 have been vaccinated.
Officials said they would wait to see whether the city’s COVID-19 infection numbers rise after the schools’ spring break before deciding whether to lift the mandate for the rest of the year.
The president of the city’s teachers union, the Paterson Education Association, said his group disagreed with the board’s decision to keep the mask mandate. “We support each individual’s right to make their own decision on whether to wear a mask,” said John McEntee Jr., the union president.
He pointed out that New York City schools have dropped their mandate: “If New York City can handle it, I’m certain Paterson can as well,” the union president said.