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"Hello, this is Seattle Public Schools. We hope your child was able to experience the great support of our educators and school leaders prepared for the first day of school. Today we had some technology challenges. Our technology department is launching a solution this evening. In order to correct these issues, you will need to help your child restart their district provided device over the weekend. Please follow these steps…"
That robo-call was made to all parents in the Seattle public school system. With the entire spring and summer to prepare for online learning, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) "Strong Start" program illustrated the weakness in the online learning system the first week of school. It wasn't because of unforeseen issues but rather unpreparedness.
One parent posted on an SPS Thread about the first Day of Strong Start: "Please bring back our children to Zoom!!!PLEASE!!!!!We can't even access to their district emails, laptops is not even connecting with our home internet, our kids they can't figure it out Teams by themselves without an adult help. As parents we need to work, We need to earn money for our living, but on the first day of remote learning this is not a 'STRONG START' it's a 'STRONG FAILURE' for our children and to our school staffs coz they don’t have a choice they need to follow what's the district wants."
Parents reported that the school mandated that children use "district provided" devices rather than home computers. While there were many programs pre-loaded onto the devices, the district forgot to install the program Microsoft Meetings/Teams that was to be the basis for the classrooms. As a result, the first week of school was a loss for many students.
"After 6 months to plan, that was the 1st day? Really? Seems there is barely a game plan. Hugely disappointed," another parents posted on the SPS Thread.
Last spring during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, SPS announced that there would be no online options because it would not be "equitable" for the students who did not have access to technology. Whether true or not, no matter the small percentage of students who did not have a cell phone, tablet or wifi, all students were deemed by SPS to not merit an education for the duration of the year.
Washington State's big tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Century Link and more stepped up and donated devices and hotspots to students in need. Yet even with all those free resources, once the school IT employees installed all the added software and reconfigured the devices, they could not even guarantee that the devices would be able to access the internet.
"Why won't the school laptops stay connected to Wifi? We had to switch all of our kids to personal computers today to stay connected."
Some parents reported that schools did not stagger arrival times for students and parents picking up supplies and devices which led to big crowds of parents and students socializing on the grounds against Washington State coronavirus restrictions.
Even though schools are "shut down," while most students try unsuccessfully to access online learning, Seattle School buildings are open, for some. SPS and the City of Seattle are providing day care at "closed" public school facilities, for a price. Costs can range as high as $1,600 per month for the program which many have difficulty affording, especially families with only one income earner who did not foresee this added expense or have means to supervise children at home wile they are at work. Additionally the programs have limited capacity. Seattle Parks Department and other city funded agencies are offering similar programs.
"I have heard from multiple Spanish speaking families they cannot access any platforms. Do I refer them to the tech dept or the ELL department?" asked another on the SPS Thread about the first Day of Strong Start.
Meanwhile students at home continued to struggle: "ALERT: We are currently experiencing slow internet and learning platform access due to the high volume of traffic this morning. This has resulted in disruption of service on district issued laptops. Our technology teams are actively working the issues. We will update this alert when we have a resolution.—Department of Technology Services"
Last year, over 50 percent of SPS students did not even log into Schoology, the online learning portal. Last week, The Post Millennial reported that SPS staff as part of their training and orientation for the coming school year had been subjected to racist and misogynist radical training. Many SPS parents believe the time could have been better spent working out the bugs in the online learning.
Parents who enrolled their children in SPS rather than explore other education options are now finally conceding that they may have to pay for private school, tutoring, learning "pods" or other options. These options usually cost more money, leaving students with low income families trapped in a dysfunctional system unable to even access the internet from SPS provided devices.
A return to in person education is unlikely to be in the near future. However, Seattle public schools have already released a plan to bring students back into the classroom, but it differentiates the priorities for who should come back first based on many factors involving a measure of those who are most marginalized. Per the guidelines, "students furthest from educational justice," and "students of color" would be given priority on returning to school for face-to-face instruction.
Enrollment data has show a dramatic increase in students in SPS since last year, bucking a trend of a regular decrease in total student population year after year. However, this data has not yet been reconciled and includes the students in lower grades or who transferred because their families moved from other cities and has not yet factored in students who have transferred out of the system or moved away. SPS is slated to release their 2020-2021 reconciled enrollment data in October or November.