PATERSON — After just one day of classes, Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres and the Fire Department shuttered 26 of the district's 52 schools Thursday afternoon for outstanding fire code violations — some of which inspectors determined were an "imminent hazard," said Deputy Chief Mike Muccio of the Fire Prevention Bureau.
The district responded by seeking an injunction against the mayor and Fire Department to keep the schools open, but it didn't work. The entire district will be closed today as well. District staff worked overnight to correct the situation, said Laura Constable, district spokeswoman.
Board of Education members and several members of the City Council also fired back with a stinging rebuke of Torres. To them, the move to shut down the schools was telling, they say, because it was a political tactic of the mayor's, using school children as pawns, to embarrass the district and schools superintendent.
"I'm really shocked and appalled that the mayor would stoop to this level, attacking children to achieve his political ends," 3rd Ward City Councilman William McKoy said. "This is another charge against him working in the best interests of the city.
Some council and school board members suggest the mayor was motivated to hurt the district because he is not able to control the schools superintendent and the board.
"In light of today's arrests," McCoy added, referring to the arrest of Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera and other local officials by the FBI on corruption charges, "it is shameful to see the behavior of this mayor. He should be arrested for misconduct of office."
Torres did not immediately return a telephone call Thursday night seeking comment concerning the 26 school closings.
At a Thursday night news conference, Schools Superintendent Michael Glascoe said he received a letter at 4 p.m. from Torres dated Sept. 6 notifying him of the closings. City officials at the news conference stressed their concern for the safety of the city's school children.
Glascoe said that 46 of the violations listed in Torres's letter were new to the district as of Thursday afternoon. He said the district has been trying to work "in concert" with the fire department to correct the problems.
The most serious violations include deficiencies listed on fire alarm and sprinkler system test reports. In some schools, the systems were not working properly and in 13 others, Fire Department officials had not yet received reports attesting to their viability, Muccio said.
The district had most of August to correct the problems and had been told in March to test the fire alarms and sprinkler systems. He also said the timing of the notice was because the department had significant paperwork to finish on top of last-minute inspections and waiting for the remaining test reports, Muccio said.
The letter also said that all of the city's schools have been re-inspected three times in the last month-and-a-half. A total of 49 schools had current violations, though it was 26 schools that had violations considered "imminent hazards" for which they had to be closed.
Muccio said some problems stem from violations that have not been corrected since the district was cited in April for 66 outstanding code issues. Some of those inspections were conducted in May and August 2006. The district was fined $13,200, which it has not yet paid, Muccio said. He intends to issue more fines. Glascoe said flat funding from the state has created a difficult financial situation for Paterson schools.
Glascoe said that 46 of the violations listed in Torres's letter were new to the district as of Thursday afternoon.
He said the district has been trying to work "in concert" with the fire department to correct the problems. About 12,000 students attend schools affected by the closings.
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Twenty-six schools were closed in the Paterson School District Thursday for fire code violations
School 3, 448 Main St.
School 4, 55 Clinton St.
School 10, 48 Mercer St.
School 12, 121 N. 2nd St.
School 13, 690 E. 23rd St.
School 17, 112 N. Fifth St.
School 19, 21 James St.-Paterson Ave.
School 20, 650 20th Ave.-E. 37th St.
School 30, 845 E. 28th St.
International High School, 202 Union Ave.
East High School, 150 Park Ave.
Paterson Academy for Urban Leadership, 2 E. 40th St.
Norman S. Weir, 152 Van Houten St.-College Boulevard.
Rosa L. Parks School of Fine & Performing Arts, 413 12th Ave.
Great Falls Academy, 259-275 Alabama Ave.
Paterson Public Schools Sports Academy, 47 State St.
New Roberto Clemente School, 482-506 Market St.
Edward W. Kilpatrick Elementary School, 295 Ellison St.
Panther Academy, 201 Memorial Drive
John F. Kennedy High School, 61 Preakness Ave., No. 27
Rutland Early Childhood School, 823 E. 28th St.
Garrett Morgan Academy, 16-32 Spruce St.
Impact Academy, 175 Main St.
HARP Academy, 175 Main St.
STAR Academy, 175 Main St.
Paterson Pre-Collegiate Teaching Academy, 137 Ellison St.Source: Paterson Fire Department