PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — One of New Jersey’s largest school districts is still doing all remote learning, but not for long.

Paterson teachers will be back in the classroom next week, but as CBS2’s Nick Caloway reports, some teachers say it’s still not safe for staff or students.

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After more than a year of Zoom school, fifth grader Zani Wheeler is ready to go back to the actual classroom.

“Because I sleep most of the time in class because it’s kind of hard,” she said.

Zani’s grandmother, Evelyn Jackson, wants her back in school, too, but it still makes her nervous.

“Yes, I’m ready, but I don’t think it’s really safe at this moment,” Jackson said.


Starting next Tuesday, Paterson is bringing teachers back to school.

Most will teach remotely from empty classrooms for the rest of the school year with only a small group of students set to return in June.

“I miss them and I definitely want to see them, but I also want to make sure that I see them when it’s safe,” teacher Zellie Thomas said.

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Even as COVID infections plummet, many teachers and union leaders say the school buildings are not safe.

That’s despite Paterson public schools spending nearly $20 million in federal aid to install air purifiers and filters.

The Paterson Education Association, which represents teachers and school staff, brought in an inspector to look at the HVAC systems.

That union’s president called the systems inadequate, and teachers have taken pictures and videos showing deteriorating air conditioners and dirty filters.

“If you didn’t allocate some of that $20 million for filters, what are they hiding?” said John McEntee Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association.


The Paterson School superintendent said in a statement the union used those videos to launch a social media campaign to “heighten anxiety among their members as well as parents.”

The superintendent added that it’s time to put students’ needs first and resume in-person instruction.

Teachers Caloway talked to say they will be back in the classroom on Tuesday.

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CBS2’s Nick Caloway contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team