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Fairfax County schools cancel first week of distance learning due to technical issues

FCPS is pausing online teacher-led instruction until April 20 after software issues prevented students from accessing classes.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — After two days of attempting distance learning, Fairfax County Public Schools has canceled teacher-led classes for the week. Technical issues prevented students from accessing classes, forcing FCPS to pause distance learning until Monday, April 20.

The county began online classes April 14, after being closed since March 13 to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Blackboard, the system being used during distance learning, had several outages throughout the day disrupting classes. Initially, FCPS issued a two-hour delay for April 15 classes, but announced at 11:30 a.m. that classes for the day were canceled. 

"FCPS had worked closely with Blackboard’s technical team for several weeks prior to the launch of distance learning and there was no indication that the system would be unable to handle the volume of participating users or would be susceptible to the security issues that many of our schools encountered,"
Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a letter to families. 

RELATED: 'We are all in this together' | Fairfax County superintendent shares distance learning plans for remainder of school year

Braband said technical teams for FCPS and Blackboard believe the root cause is a software issue, and that updates to the system would be run April 15 and 16, and a staff training would be conducted Friday, April 17. Teacher-led instruction is expected to resume Monday, April 20. 

"Access to learning resources will continue to be available through live streaming of instructional programming for elementary, middle and high school students on local cable channels," Braband said. 

Students can expect to be contacted by their teachers via phone or their FCPS Gmail account to ensure that third-quarter work assigned before the school closure in March is completed. 

"As a Fairfax County-based company, we are deeply committed to providing Fairfax students and parents the robust and secure learning environment that they want and need," a statement from Blackboard said. "We apologize for the disruption this has caused to instruction and we appreciate patience as we all work together as an education community to ensure continuity of learning for students."


RELATED: All Virginia K-12 public schools closed due to coronavirus

See the full letter from FCPS below: 

Dear FCPS Families,

As you know, the start of distance learning has not gone as smoothly as hoped. We sincerely appreciate your patience and share your frustration related to our distance learning challenges this week. FCPS had worked closely with Blackboard’s technical team for several weeks prior to the launch of distance learning and there was no indication that the system would be unable to handle the volume of participating users or would be susceptible to the security issues that many of our schools encountered.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to pause this week’s distance learning schedule. Technical teams for FCPS and Blackboard believe they have identified the root cause of the connectivity problems and that they involve a software issue. In order to work properly, staff must make necessary updates and patches to the system. On a system as large as FCPS’, these critical updates take time and we will reassess the situation and provide an update on Friday. Additionally, there will be a staff training component attached to the system upgrades. Updates will begin tonight (April 15), run through tomorrow, and staff training will take place on Friday.

Teacher-led instruction through Blackboard 24/7 scheduled for tomorrow, April 16, and Friday, April 17, has been canceled.

Teachers will be contacting students over the next two days through email or phone calls to ensure that third quarter work assigned prior to March 13 is completed and submitted. Students should be checking their FCPS Gmail account (that ends in @fcpsschools.net). If your student is not contacted, please reach out to your principal.

Teacher-led instruction for students is expected to resume on Monday, April 20. Access to learning resources will continue to be available through live streaming of instructional programming for elementary, middle and high school students on local cable channels. Additional distance learning resources by grade level are also available on the FCPS website: Distance Learning.

Blackboard has shared the following statement with Fairfax County Public Schools:

“Blackboard has been working hard with Fairfax County Public Schools to move its 189,000 students to fully remote instruction during this unprecedented crisis. We encountered unexpected technical challenges over the past couple of days that caused some users to experience issues when logging into the FCPS 24-7 Learning site, and we are working closely with FCPS to resolve the issues as quickly as possible. In addition, we are working with FCPS to require students to log in to the FCPS 24-7 site and authenticate their identity before they are permitted to join a virtual classroom.

“As a Fairfax County-based company, we are deeply committed to providing Fairfax students and parents the robust and secure learning environment that they want and need. We apologize for the disruption this has caused to instruction and we appreciate patience as we all work together as an education community to ensure continuity of learning for students.”

I recognize the events of this week do not meet the expectations of our community. I will work tirelessly to make this right.

Sincerely,
Scott Brabrand, Superintendent
Fairfax County Public Schools

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