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Thousands of students tripped up by tech troubles as Seattle Public Schools starts the year

Seattle students reported login issues and lagging internet. The district says this week is a "warm up." All classes are online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SEATTLE — Thousands of families in Seattle reported snafus with logging into their classes and lagging internet as the Seattle Public Schools launched the 2020-2021 school year online on Friday.

”There were a lot of tears reverberating across Seattle this morning at 8:30," Clare Kealy, a Seattle mother, told KING 5.

Kealy and her husband Pete spent 15 minutes "scrambling" trying to get their fourth-grader Gannon logged into his class on his district-issued laptop.

The family said they were impressed with how prepared the teachers were and they're confident the district can work out the technical issues.

But Pete Kealy wished the first day had gone better.

"It's not the most confidence-inspiring start to the school year,” Pete Kealy said.

Some parents took to Twitter to express frustration.

However, other families reported that their first day went smoothly and that the issues were not universal.

All classes in Seattle Public Schools are virtual, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The district issued a letter to families explaining the problems.

"While the vast majority of our students connected, logged in, and met new classmates, we also had a few bumps today. As we brought tens of thousands of devices onto our network this morning, we saw the internet slow down in some areas, and some students experienced disruptions to class meetings or might not have been able to login," the district told parents in a prepared email.

Using an analogy, district officials explained that increased digital traffic put pressure on its systems.

"We had six thousand cars on the road and now we have 63,000. So, they built an offramp for heavy loads – like video. This solution was tested today at Lincoln High School and it worked well," officials said in the letter.

The full text of the letter, which included IT support instructions for the weekend, is posted below.

The district had announced earlier that the first week of school would be dedicated to smoothing out the transition to all-online learning. Called "Strong Start," students, teachers and families have two-hour class days dedicated to learning how to navigate the technology for learning, as well as family and emotional support.

District spokesman Tim Robinson confirmed the scope of the first-day troubles, and said the week is "for everyone – students, teachers, staff, families – to take some time to get acclimated to this unprecedented teaching and learning environment."

"We are fortunate that today’s technical hiccups happened during this 'warm up' period because it gives us time to smooth the wrinkles and get everything in tip-top shape," he said.

Seattle Public Schools letter to parents:

While the vast majority of our students connected, logged in, and met new classmates, we also had a few bumps today. As we brought tens of thousands of devices onto our network this morning, we saw the internet slow down in some areas, and some students experienced disruptions to class meetings or might not have been able to login.

Our Department of Technology Services (DoTs) has been planning for this scenario but couldn’t implement a solution without knowing exactly what would happen today. They have reminded me that our network is like a highway. We had six thousand cars on the road and now we have 63,000. So, they built an offramp for heavy loads – like video. This solution was tested today at Lincoln High School and it worked well. We will be doing a system update this afternoon for all district issued devices. Below are directions you will need to follow with your student so that the “off-ramp” is activated and ready for Tuesday, Sept 8.

We also heard that families need basic login and technology navigation supports. The web team is working with DoTs to put “how to” information front and center on the district website, www.seattleschools.org, and an alert on all school sites. Look for that update this weekend.

Finally, today’s experience with technology is exactly why we are implementing the Strong Start week, Sept. 4-11. This week gives us time to test out the technology, work out the issues, and focus on relationships and building community – all to ensure a smooth 2020-21 school year.

Please do the following this weekend to support your student:

  1. Plug your device into power 
  2. Turn it on  
  3. Connect to the internet
  4. Restart it and have your student log in 
  5. Leave it on for an hour or two to receive new software updates before logging off  

It would be ideal if you could do this at least once over the weekend and also start it up as early as possible before school starts on Tuesday.