Updated at 5:00 p.m. with comment from Blackboard and new information from the West Ada school District.
The first day of the 2020-21 school year got off to a rocky start in Idaho’s largest district Tuesday morning, when widespread internet problems prevented students from logging into virtual classes.
West Ada communications director Char Jackson said the district’s web hosting provider Blackboard experienced a nationwide server problem. What’s more, district devices were completing software updates when West Ada’s 40,000 students all logged in for classes on Tuesday morning, creating connectivity issues, Jackson said.
High schoolers were set to start school at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday. For middle schoolers, the log-in time was 8:20 a.m. By 8:30, district schools were sending texts and emails telling parents the technical issues were widespread.
West Ada’s IT department stopped the updates on Tuesday in an attempt to help connectivity, but “it takes time for these things to resolve,” Jackson said. She suggested students complete pending updates on their devices on Tuesday evening and reboot computers completely before attempting to log into classes on Wednesday.
Blackboard confirmed that a surge in back-to-school traffic on Tuesday created a “widespread service issue” that made some websites unavailable. The system was back up and running around 11:15 a.m. a company spokesperson said.
On Tuesday morning parents told Idaho Education News that district issued computers couldn’t access the main website or get into the Microsoft Teams platform to connect with teachers. Some students managed to connect but had issues with glitching videos or slow connections.
Melanie Flake, a blogger for Idaho Education News, said her children were able to complete about half of their work on Tuesday, and that connectivity challenges continued into the afternoon.
“It was especially challenging for the elementary kids,” Flake said. “Every one of them had their parents sitting next to them trying to figure it out.”
Travis Hawkes’ middle and high school children switched to personal devices when their district laptops couldn’t connect on Tuesday morning. Both got into their virtual classes using the personal devices, Hawkes said, and heard from their classmates that they’d had to abandon using the district-issued computers as well.
“This is a crisis. My kids have backup devices but a lot of kids don’t. This is especially unfair to lower income families that don’t have good wifi or any wifi in their homes, that don’t have personal computers, that don’t have two parents who spent all morning doing tech support,” Hawkes said. “It makes me really sad, it’s terrible.”
Justin “Stubbs” Zanelli’s sixth-grade daughter was able to get into her classroom this morning on a district-issued laptop. She experienced slow internet, Zanelli said, but was able to connect with a teacher.
But Zanelli’s eighth-grade son couldn’t even log in to his district laptop in the morning, due to an issue with a district platform. By the end of the day both of Zanelli’s children were able to connect.
Zanelli said he doesn’t expect district platforms to be entirely flawless from the get-go. But he feels like West Ada spent the spring and summer “whistling past the graveyard,” hoping schools would go back in person this fall rather than planning for a seamless rollout of virtual learning.
“In my head the best case scenario was they spent five months preparing for something they’d never have to do,” he said. “Instead it feels like they spent five months hoping they would never have to plan.”
This is the first day of school for #WestAda. And there is a problem with getting connected via the school-issued devices. This is the west ada IT number. So, yeah, things are going swimmingly. pic.twitter.com/Kq6xd9teEx
— Damien (@suntoktotheface) September 8, 2020
How is the first day of school going for you? Get in touch at [email protected]