LITTLE FALLS, NJ - The Passaic Valley Education Association (PVEA) reports that a health and safety walkthrough inspection of the Passaic Valley High School prior to the return of staff and students to the building has been denied by Superintendent JoAnn Cardillo. This comes only days after Cardillo was quoted as saying at a recent Board of Education meeting in response to questions and concerns raised about the district’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis that “health and safety is always first and foremost,” a comment with which PVEA President Marc Salvatore vehemently disagrees.

The Association continues to seek documentation from District leadership to ensure that proactive health and safety measures that are consistent with the NJ Department of Education’s “Restart and Reopening Plan” will be put into place prior to the return of staff and students to the building. Presented in the state’s plan are “minimum anticipated standards” related to areas such as “Screening, PPE, and Response to Students and Staff Presenting Symptoms,” as well as “Student Flow, Entry, Exit, and Common Areas” that districts are expected to meet.

According to Salvatore, the District has been unable, and in some cases, unwilling, to take the necessary steps to ensure building safety during these perilous times. Due to the age of the building, he says that classrooms do not have HVAC units. The NJDOE guidelines recommend that HVAC units be fitted with MERV filters that have a minimum number of 13, the lowest filter number that is able to clean respiratory droplets from the air. MERV 17 filters are what is needed to cleanse viral particles. Without these filters in the classrooms, the room occupants must rely on outside air. 

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"Many classroom windows are extremely difficult to open, and even then, only open a few inches," Salvatore related. "Without adequate ventilation and filtration, this school is not prepared to handle this pandemic situation in its current condition". 

Compounding this danger is the District’s alleged refusal to engage in basic screening procedures, such as student temperature checks upon entering the building, to try to mitigate the likelihood of the spread of infection to others. These combined concerns have stoked fear and apprehension of returning to the building among staff members, as was expressed by many teachers at the Sept. 22 Board meeting.

"Teachers want to teach and they want to do their jobs,” said Salvatore. “They just want to do it in a way that does not jeopardize their own health, that of their loved ones, or their students. With this current outbreak at our school and the circumstances surrounding it, there are many ways the system currently put in place could be circumvented. Remaining remote is the only way to protect everyone that enters that building until proper equipment and procedures are provided and adapted by our district leadership and Board of Education.”  

Four reported cases of COVID-19 at the Passaic Valley High School on Sept. 18 caused the district to close the school and transition to remote instruction until Oct. 5, while affected staff and students remain under quarantine. The PVEA remains united in their belief that remote instruction should continue until all measures have been exhausted by the district’s leadership to ensure a safe and healthy environment for staff and students. To date, according to the Association President, this has not occurred.