TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Several schools around Tompkins County have been forced to close their classrooms temporarily and pivot to online learning as positive cases among staff and students begin to slowly rise, accompanied by steady increases amid the county community.

The number currently stands at nine schools over the last week to have at least some kind of disruption to in-person learning. Positive tests have been found among students and staff members in the Dryden Central School District, Lansing Central School District and Ithaca City School District in the past week. In all Tompkins County school districts, there have been 39 positive tests among students or staff since October, though schools have not been blamed for large scale spreading events.

The most significant announcement so far came from the Lansing Central School District, which announced on Wednesday, Dec. 2, that it was moving all Kindergarten through 12th grade classes to remote learning “until further notice.” UPDATE: The district then changed course later Wednesday and announced that in-person classes would resume Thursday, Dec. 3. Each of the three schools in the district are impacted by the announcement. A request for comment from Lansing Superintendent Chris Pettograsso has not yet been answered.

Beyond that, the Ithaca City School district has begun to encounter its own complications with in-person learning. Ithaca High School closed its classrooms for the week of Nov. 30 until Dec. 4 in reaction to a positive test of a staff member. The school plans to return to its hybrid in-person/online class model on Monday, Dec. 7.

Other ICSD schools have faced similar situations, although without closures of such lengths. A staff member at Boynton Middle School tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 1, pushing the school for a full day of online learning on Dec. 3 while contact tracing efforts are undertaken by the Tompkins County Health Department. The school was already scheduled for a day of asynchronous virtual learning on Dec. 2, and plans to return to normal on Dec. 4. Belle Sherman Elementary School was scheduled to return to in-person classes on Dec. 3, but announced Wednesday afternoon that they would have to wait until Dec. 7 to do so after the health department shared “new information,” according to Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown.

At the beginning of the week, ICSD issued a communication about the increase in cases throughout Tompkins County, which has faced about a month of unprecedented local spread of the coronavirus since early November.

“We are prepared to see additional cases in our community, including among members of our school community, particularly after this Thanksgiving holiday,” the district’s community announcement stated. “We continue to work with the Tompkins County Health Department to support contact tracing efforts, and support them in determining if any school-based contacts exist. We will be sure to alert school communities when and if there are school-based contacts for individuals who test positive for COVID-19.”

Elsewhere, Dryden Central School District has also been forced to stop its in-person operations for the rest of the week and plans to return on Dec. 7. That is due to a positive test that was found among the district’s transportation staff. A member of the high school community also tested positive, but had been off-campus for so long by the time of the positive test that a contact tracing regimen was unnecessary.

This is the second time since reopening that Lansing schools have had to pivot to online courses. After eight staff members and dozens of students were forced to quarantine due to a positive test in the district, classrooms closed for two weeks in October. Ithaca High School also closed for several days in October for similar reasons.

Matt Butler

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