New York City public schools on Tuesday embarked on their first major experiment with distance learning since the coronavirus pandemic. More than 900,000 students were asked to join virtual classes during the winter storm.
It didn’t go well.
Many teachers, parents and students who tried to log in found themselves locked out of their classrooms. Instead of joining their video meetings, they received an error message: “The service you are trying to access is temporarily unavailable.”
“It seems to be a very broad question,” said Jay Brown, an elected parent leader in South Brooklyn, who was trying to help his children apply while trying to work from home.
He added: “I know this is a huge undertaking. But the readiness seems to be lacking.”
On social media, dozens of people described a chaotic morning that brought to mind their worst memories of education during the pandemic.
“Total disaster,” Sam Green, who decided to take his 7-year-old son to McCarren Park to play in the snow, said in an interview. “I texted the teacher, ‘Am I the only one having problems?’ And like, no – the whole system has collapsed, even the director can’t keep up.”
Students lingered in first-grade classes with the cameras off, waiting for teachers who were unable to check in. Others have been kicked out of online dating. As parents and educators have taken on the role of temporary technical support, several schools have completely suspended meetings and classes until at least 10 a.m. They can’t even accommodate.
One parent said that by 8:45 a.m., his family had already given up distance learning for the day, joining others who decided to call it a full snow day.
As of midday Tuesday, it was unclear how widespread the technical problems were.
The Department of Education said on social media around 8:30 a.m. that it was “having issues with services that require IBM authentication to log in.” Officials said an hour later that the company had “added capacity and improvements are being rolled out across the system.”
IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The uproar came after Schools Chancellor David C. Banks said at a press conference Monday that while he expected some “lapses,” he believed the city was ready to return to distance learning.
“One of the good things that came out of the pandemic was our willingness to be prepared for moments like this,” Mr Banks said. “And I think the school system is more than ready.”
Some students and teachers were able to log in without problems. Alan Cohen, a parent in Central Queens, had his kids, who are in kindergarten and third grade, set up their devices Monday night — and they successfully joined their virtual rooms.
Their classmates weren’t so lucky: “At first there were three kids,” Cohen said, adding that parents’ WhatsApp groups for school and individual classes “blew up.”
“The idea that every child is going to be present in all of their classes, all day, kind of went out the window,” he said.
The city bought more than 550,000 iPads for children and 175,000 Chromebook laptops during the pandemic, and the era of distance learning it ushered in prompted many school districts across the country to forego traditional days off due to winter weather.
But Tuesday’s debacle is sure to set off a wave of pushback in New York. Shekar Krishnan, a city councilman who represents parts of northern Queens, wrote on social media that the administration “should have given them a goddamn snow day!”
Some schools not administered by the Department for Education have done just that.
“It’s just an old-school snow day,” said Arthur Samuels, founder of a charter high school in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood.
“Too many students have to look after younger siblings and we know how bad distance learning is,” Mr Samuels said on social media. “We will all see each other in person tomorrow. Enjoy the snow!”
Olivia Bensimon contributed to the reporting.