ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester City School District is temporarily pivoting to remote learning beginning Thursday due to the recent COVID-19 surge locally and the subsequent “limited number of staff and shortage of substitutes.”

District officials announced Wednesday that all students will engage in an asynchronous learning day Thursday by logging onto Google Classroom or Seesaw and completing the work assigned. They say on Friday and Monday, students will log onto Google Classroom or Seesaw and follow their schedules via remote learning with their teachers. Officials say NorthSTAR and OACES will remain open for in-person instruction.

District officials say they anticipate a return to in-person learning on Tuesday and will be providing an update on that by 12 p.m. Monday.

Officials say during this temporary pivot to remote learning, athletics will continue as scheduled, adding that coaches will communicate directly with student athletes. Additionally, all out-of-district transportation will continue as planned.

Officials say the district will continue to support students and families during this pivot with:

  • Grab-and-go meals for students will be served at 15 school sites from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Technology support can be accessed by visiting RCSDLearns.
  • Vaccine clinics are being held at select schools beginning next week.

Rochester and its surrounding area has seen an unprecedented amount of new COVID-19 cases being reported in recent weeks. Monroe County, as of Tuesday afternoon, was averaging 1,699 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past week — by far the highest it has been since the pandemic began.

Additionally, in the week between December 27 and January 2, Monroe County saw the highest number of COVID-19 infections among school-aged children to date, with more than 1,200 infections in kids aged 12-18 and 854 new cases among those aged 5-12, according to the Monroe County Department of Public Health.

In response, RCSD has been preparing for the possibility of a potential shift to remote learning since before the holiday break. Additionally, the Board of Education met Tuesday night to discuss a path forward amid issues such as the high rate of absenteeism, lack of substitutes, transportation issues, and current COVID-19 guidelines. Some schools reported 40% to 50% percent of students didn’t show up for school Monday.

More than 150 “educators, parents, and concerned members of Rochester City Schools” petitioned Wednesday to the district to advocate for a switch to a remote instruction model for two weeks amid the local COVID-19 surge fueled by the omicron variant.

According to the more than 150 people who cosigned an open letter Wednesday calling for change, a temporary shift to remote learning would protect students’ individual and familial health as the virus rages.

“Community health ER wait times are hovering around 5-6 hours in Rochester (anecdotally even higher),” the petitioners wrote. “Sending kids into schools where it’s almost certain they will be exposed and then sending them home is going to increase the likelihood that people will get sick enough to need hospitalization.”

The petitioners also said that remote learning is less of a disruption than when so many of their regular instructors are absent. They also say equity is a factor in that schools with high poverty populations, with higher Black and Brown student populations, will “inevitably be more understaffed, less equipped with high quality masks, and less equipped with access to testing.”

The Rochester Teachers Union President, Adam Urbanski, has previously voiced his support for the district to go temporarily remote.