PATERSON — Students and staff at Paterson Public Schools no longer are required to wear masks.
The Board of Education on Wednesday evening voted 6-1 to end its mask mandate and made the protective coverings optional, beginning on Thursday. The board also voted, 6-1, to approve an $801 million school budget that will raise local education property taxes by 11%.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer told the board that Paterson recently has been averaging less than one positive COVID-19 case per school per week. Shafer noted that she conferred with Paterson’s municipal health officer, Dr. Paul Persaud, before recommending that the mask requirement be lifted.
Persaud said in an interview on Wednesday that his office would continue to monitor the city’s COVID infection rates in case the masks are needed again.
Veteran school board member Jonathan Hodges, a retired physician, cast the only vote against making masks voluntary. Hodges said he was concerned about possible increases in infection numbers and the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.
“It’s not really a sound medical approach,” Hodges said of making masks optional.
The Paterson district has more than 25,000 students and about 4,000 employees with about 50 schools.
Shafer said 89% of Paterson’s school employees are vaccinated, with those who have not gotten the shots required to get regular testing. She said 82% of the students ages 11 to 17 have gotten the vaccine. She also stated that the vaccination rate for children ages 5 through 10 in Paterson has risen from 24% to “the 30s.”
Paterson election results: Andre Sayegh says election was ‘victory for integrity’
“We will continue to take the other precautions against the spread of the COVID-19 virus including the use of air blasters and air purifiers in every room, frequent handwashing, social distancing, temperature scanning, avoiding large gatherings, and staying home when sick,” said Shafer.
Meanwhile, Hodges also was the only board member voting against the budget. He did not discuss the reason for his vote during Wednesday’s meeting, but in the past he has asserted that many Paterson homeowners cannot afford to pay more taxes.
The 11% hike will cost the owner of a $197,000 house, which is average assessment in the city, an extra $213 per year in property taxes. This marks the fourth straight year in which the board has imposed a double-digit percentage increase.
Shafer told the board that the budget would not require any layoffs.
“We are trying to provide the best education possible with the funding we receive,” the superintendent said.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.
Email: [email protected]
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ lifts school mask mandate, budget approved