The resumption of pandemic-era remote learning for NYC public school students on Monday was marred by technical difficulties that left some parents aggravated as their children struggled to log on.
"There's no way to do this without a dedicated adult," said Kate Polson, a parent of a first grader and kindergarten student engaged in blended learning. "I mean, there's no way that my son would have been able to figure this out by himself."
Polson, who works at Columbia University, logged onto Google Classroom ten minutes before her first grade child was to begin virtual class. The link for the Google Classroom meeting, however, did not work.
"None of the families could get online, and so then it took another five minutes after that for that to be resolved by the teachers. And so that was 15 minutes late for everyone to be able to get it on the site," said Polson. "And then there were minor technical issues while we were on the video stream. The teacher didn't know how to make her sound when she was streaming a video; hadn't figured out how to make the sound go through to all the students. So we had to sort of work around that."
Polson's other son is part of a 3K cohort that will report to school for in-person learning on Wednesday. His first day of remote learning also experienced technical delays.
"He was supposed to have a meeting on Zoom this morning at 9 a.m.; that link didn't work. So that was pushed back to 11 o'clock this morning," said Polson. "And the new link sent out again, didn't work. And then we got a message from the teacher saying that they discovered that the 3K students had to be on TeachHub."
Polson would later learn through her teacher that the city Department of Education had tightened access to Zoom last night, warning students won't be able to log on unless they had a TeachHub account. Though she tipped her hat to the first grade teacher for keeping the children engaged, she still couldn't get any of her own work done as a result.
At Q300, a gifted and talented school in Queens, Claire Lui, a parent of third grader, experienced a similar issue getting her daughter logged on to Zoom via TeachHub. The site, however, kept crashing.
"They kept getting asked for a corporate code for the Zoom, and it's frankly a failure on the part of DOE that they had months to resolve this and it is a complete mess," said Lui, who blames the Mayor Bill de Blasio and the DOE. "How can they expect the entire school system, especially parents for whom English is not a first language, who may be homeless, who are low-income, who have not reliable Internet, to manage this system. It is an absolute failure."
Lui said the technical difficulties were shared by nearly all of her daughter's classmates, but that it could have been worse.
"The teachers were able to teach it," Lui said. "Both of my daughter's teachers are relatively young and tech savvy. I would not be surprised if many schools were having problems with Internet at the school where teachers are being asked to teach and teachers who are not as tech savvy not being able to go in and fix the problems."
Technical issues even plagued the DOE's official website, which was down for ten minutes this morning.
"There's clearly going to be problems sometimes, but structurally we're in good shape," said de Blasio at his Monday morning press conference, addressing the glitches that some students experienced when logging onto their virtual classrooms through the DOE website.
"I think the systems are working, we're identifying glitches, and resolving them immediately," Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza added.
In Brooklyn, Gabrielle Hernandez-McCrae experienced a less hectic morning, though it wasn't completely error-free. For the start of class, teachers for her twin boys in third grade explained why coronavirus has limited in-person learning, while also guiding them through virtual classroom etiquette. That included ensuring they were properly dressed for school, finding a good space to sit and participate during virtual class, while also recommending to parents to be aware of their children's time for when they must be logged on to Google Meet and "not to be called away to do other things."
However, of the two devices the DOE provided to Hernandez-McCrae's kids, only the tablet was able to connect online. The laptop she was given could not link to the internet.
"I actually have to call the school sometime this week and figure out, 'Do I just give this back to you or you're gonna give me another one because I can't use it.' So they're both on one device," said Hernandez-McCrae, who has a third child in her senior year in high school who is figuring out remote learning on her own.
The DOE told Gothamist that the functioning tablet doubles as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Parents can connect a laptop to the internet using a tablet.
Some teachers say the DOE has yet to provide them with much-needed iPads for their students. At P.S. 169 in Sunset Park, assistant principal Joanna Cohen was still waiting Monday morning for the DOE to send her the 35 iPads she requested for her kindergarten students. By the afternoon, Cohen said 28 iPads had been delivered. But they're still waiting on 68 more iPads for students in higher grades.
In advance of the new school year, 320,000 iPads were distributed to students throughout the school system, part of the DOE's supply of 900,000 devices on hand, according to Carranza.
"We're working very closely with our schools and we will not let a student that needs a device not have a device," said Carranza.
Councilmember Mark Treyger, chair of the City Council's education committee, said some school districts continue to wait for devices they've requested weeks ago. In Brooklyn's School District 22, Treyger was told 1,500 devices remain outstanding, with principals unsure when they'll receive them. Administrators often shop for equipment through the Shop DOE, where they can purchase technology that includes iPads, laptops, desktop computers, and printers.
"I am told by a number of school administrators, not just one, a number of them, that the technology on the site is either sold out, or it's not telling them when it will arrive," said Treyger. "It is disingenuous for the mayor to say that every child who needs technology has it. That's not an honest statement because a number of kids do not have technology and Internet as of this morning."