ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca City School District will temporarily convert all of its schools to online learning starting Tuesday, Dec. 15, according to a message from the district sent Monday morning.

The decision is the result of “community spread of COVID-19 (that) has resulted in many mandatory isolations and quarantines of students and staff across our schools,” ICSD Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown said in a message to the district community. The plan is currently to return to in-person classes on Monday, Jan. 4, for students who have chosen that option (and for whom there is room in school buildings) but Brown acknowledged that the possibility for a further shift to distance learning exists.

Several schools have had to individually shift to online learning over the last several weeks as cases in Tompkins County steeply increase during the latest coronavirus wave. Overall, since in-person classes began, the district has seen students and staff test positive for the virus, 23 of which have been people who are coming to school buildings in person. Schools have largely not been blamed for COVID-19 transmission, both statewide and locally.

Judging by the district’s academic calendar, students were scheduled to have off from school for the winter recess holiday beginning on Dec. 24 and extending until Jan. 4 anyway, so currently the switch impacts about a week and a half of school.

Assuming in-person classes do return in January for those who have chosen that option and been accepted, Brown continued that a COVID-19 testing program will be implemented for those students that are attending in-person. ICSD hasn’t had an ongoing testing program for the coronavirus, but did establish one for a few days in October leading up to the beginning of in-person classes.

“We are in the midst of coordinating this testing program and will provide updates to our community when finalized,” Brown said. “Thank you for your valiant efforts in the midst of challenging circumstances. Our community continues to exhibit flexibility, patience and commitment to young people. I wish you a safe and restorative end to 2020.”

Free meal pick-up will still be available from Boynton Middle School, Lehman Alternative Community School and Fall Creek Elementary School from 10 a.m. to noon on every virtual learning day. Meal delivery forms for those hoping to receive the food at home are available through the district.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com