In "a year like none other," as Chancellor Richard Carranza is fond of calling school during the COVID-19 era, New York City schoolkids met their new teachers and classmates in Zoom calls instead of classrooms on Wednesday, the first day of orientation.

Some parents reported children happily reuniting with classmates, and teachers who engaged with playful ice breakers and scavenger hunts. But many families reported chaos: confusing log-in procedures, missing schedules, lack of translations for non-English speakers.

“There’s been nothing today. I expected more, I expected there would be more teachers answering parents’ questions,” said Grisel Cardona, a parent of three children in the Bronx who spent the morning helping other parents navigate the system. “I’ve had parents who didn’t have the password, didn’t know how to get in (to the online session)...These are a lot of Spanish-speaking parents, they’re trying.”

Cardona said she didn’t receive the link to her elementary school daughter’s orientation meeting, though the teacher said she sent it. Her two sons, who are both in special education, did not have meetings planned for the day.

Part of the confusion had to do with new email addresses students’ received over the summer, parents said.

“Can you imagine a person who’s not fluent in English sending a child for the first time in the system the amount of confusion they must be feeling?” said another parent in Brooklyn, Tazin Azad, who has three children in public schools.

There were problems with the remote-learning devices issued by the Department of Education as well, said Randi Levine, the policy director at Advocates for Children of New York, a nonprofit focused on low-income students. “We heard from some parents today who were not able to log on to the remote orientation, they couldn’t get their iPads to work, they were unable to reach the Department of Education’s help desk or their school for assistance. And so their children had to miss out on the first day of remote orientation,” she said.

Staffing shortages also meant some students weren’t with their consistent teachers or ended up in a remote session of 70 fifth-grade students.

Nina Cinelli, also in Brooklyn, said the teacher who greeted her second-grader online Wednesday morning was not even her son’s permanent teacher.

“We don’t have enough teachers to teach our remote students. It’s confusing for these children because those are not their teachers,” she said. “My kid kept looking at me, asking ‘this is not my teacher?’ He’s confused.”

Young students squirmed around as their parents tried to focus their attention on the screens:

At the same time, some students reported being happy to see their friends and teachers again—one parent said it was “an overall joyous day.”

Some creative teachers also played games to grab their young students’ attention:

Still, one parent and education advocate said the city had months to “figure this out.”

“You could have done better than what you gave us today. I was a bit disappointed. If I had to pick a single word to describe it, it would be mechanical. It didn’t feel human. It didn’t feel appropriate for a nine-year-old,” said Thomas (Tom) Sheppard, who has three children attending public school in the Bronx.

As an appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, Sheppard said he has a better-than-average understanding of the DOE’s enormous challenges for the school reopening plan and still, “it felt almost haphazardly put together.”

He added, “they invested so much time into what the models look like and they invested hardly anytime in the experience.”

Students will continue with two more days of online instructional orientation this week. The first day of in-person learning is Monday, September 21st.