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Change to Start of Academic Year - Letter to the Community

August 18, 2020

Greetings, ICSD Community, 

Since March 13, 2020, the day our school buildings closed, the planning and implementation efforts of our caregivers, students, faculty, and staff in the midst of significant challenges have been noteworthy. Our community has demonstrated remarkable patience and resilience as we have sought to meet the needs of our learners. Additionally, thoughtful feedback from the ICSD community has contributed to our ongoing strategies.

After much deliberation, consultation, and listening, it is with conflicted emotions that I write to inform you that the Ithaca City School District will change the start of our academic year. All students and all grade levels will begin the school year virtually on September 14, 2020.

It is our hope that the virtual start to the school year will allow us extra time to address the details and logistics needed to ensure a safer opening of our school buildings. It is also our hope that, for those wishing to return to our physical spaces, we will have the ability to begin in-person teaching and learning on October 5, 2020. We will closely monitor internal, local, state, and national indicators to determine if and how we will reopen our spaces for in-person instruction at that time.

While state and local data on risk and infection rates would currently permit us to reopen our buildings, there are a number of factors that support starting with virtual/distance learning. As previously communicated, we are committed to providing choice to families and teachers with regards to in-person or distance learning. At the same time, doing so presents complications for scheduling and staffing. We also recognize that although community spread of COVID-19 continues to fall below 1%, recent and upcoming transitions and mobility in the area could significantly impact infection rates. Beginning with a virtual/distance learning model will allow us to monitor data and adjust plans as necessary.

In addition to monitoring health data, more work is needed in our school buildings. We have taken great strides in securing personal protective equipment (PPE), organizing around physical distancing standards, and implementing sanitation/cleaning protocols. However, we are facing challenges with the impact of COVID-19 on our supply chain. We are awaiting the delivery of MERV 13 filters and other HVAC equipment needed to meet the safety thresholds we desire. Furthermore, our capital project work, most specifically at the Ithaca High School, has been delayed due to the lack of availability of fan coils in a number of spaces. You can be reassured that we will not open our spaces without proper airflow and ventilation.

I recognize that a completely virtual learning experience for the first four weeks of the school year presents tremendous challenges to many families. We are working with our community partners to ensure we support the social and emotional well-being of our students and to explore innovative approaches to childcare. We anticipate sending additional information in forthcoming communication.

We will also work tirelessly to provide a robust and meaningful distance learning experience for students that closely mirrors the in-person excellence our school district has established as a standard. To this end, we have reserved the first two weeks of September to engage in district-wide professional development centered on enhancing the virtual learning experience.

In closing, please join me and others for a series of information sessions on August 20 and August 21, 2020. Details on how to register for the sessions can be found on our website, at ithacacityschools.org/districtpage.cfm?pageid=1686. Thank you for all you are doing as members of our community during this time.

Regards,
Luvelle