ITHACA, N.Y.—The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and its affiliated Primitive Pursuits summer camp and preschool have temporarily suspended their programming this week due to a verbal threat made by an employee against other staff. 

Families with children attending the summer camp learned Monday that the final week of camp had been canceled the night before it was to begin. Specific aspects of the threat are unclear, though details have slowly emerged as the week has proceeded.

“Early this week, we learned about a situation involving a temporary summer program staff member who has now been terminated,” according to a statement posted to the CCE-Tompkins County Facebook page. “The nature of this situation included a potential threat to the health and safety of more than those who were directly involved.”

Messages sent from CCE leadership to parents confirm that the final week of summer camp has been canceled and that the CCE facility on Willow Avenue and at 4-H Acres in Ithaca will be closed to the public, with staff working from home until Sept. 9. In total, the threat will close the CCE building for 11 days. The food scraps drop spot location at CCE will also be out of service during that time.

In answers to a list of questions from The Ithaca Voice, CCE interim Executive Director Meg Cole declined to give specifics about how and when the threat was made, who was its target or what it entailed, though she said the staff and students are “safe and secure.” She said the length of the shutdown is out of caution.

“We take the safety of our community very seriously. It was important that we take time to ensure that the potential threat has been resolved before reopening,” Cole wrote in an email.

Cole confirmed that the person who made the “potential threat” was a seasonal employee who has been fired. CCE is “working with legal counsel, members of area law enforcement, and our risk management team,” Cole said.

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne said camp staff had contacted his office before the incident for advice on the termination of an employee.

“We later learned that there were verbal threats made against staff during a disciplinary proceeding,” Osborne wrote in an email. “We were advised by [camp] staff that at no time were children threatened or placed in danger and that camps were closed as a precautionary matter.”

Osborne said the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office is overseeing the investigation. It’s not entirely clear why Schuyler County law enforcement is handling the incident, though two of the locations Primitive Pursuits uses for camp programming are located partially in that county.

 A Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office representative declined to provide case details to The Ithaca Voice.

In a Wednesday email, CCE administrators said the decision that staff should work remotely came after “additional consultation with legal counsel, members of law enforcement, risk management, and a change of circumstances.”

It’s not clear if there was a secondary threat that prompted further action by CCE.

Primitive Pursuits staff told families they could expect a refund for the missed week of camp. In its public statement, CCE said it plans to reschedule any activities affected by the incident.

Additional reporting by Editor-in-Chief Matt Butler.

Megan Zerez is a general assignment reporter at the Ithaca Voice. Reach her via email or social media @meganzerez