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Fire erases spring grades for 22,000 students at Washington Co. Public Schools

The small fire at the district's main administrative building damaged several servers, crippling access to the online system used for grade review.
Credit: Zhang Shu
Photo: Thinkstock

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WUSA9) — HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WUSA9) - A small fire set off a chain reaction that erased all springtime grades at Washington County Public Schools, according to a news release provided by the school district.

The district is now devising ways to re-assess the academic performance of 22,000 students, with all grades entered into a database for the fourth marking period lost because of the fire.

The small fire at the district’s main administrative building damaged several servers, crippling access to the online system used for grade review.

The Synergy Student System allows parents and students to access grades, with school officials admitting information was not properly backed up in the event of a system failure.

“We will be working with teachers, school administrators, and faculty in the coming days to develop/re-generate information that was lost and cannot be restored,” the district said in an online statement.

“We will offer several options to teachers so they can provide a fair assessment of your student's academic performance while also considering the remaining six weeks in the marking period to meet appropriate grading standards.”

The incident, as first reported by Herald-Mail Media, started with a small mulch fire outside the office building. A ventilation system pulled smoke inside, and into a server room.

The digital system is not expected to be fully repaired until next week. A backup storage system has been in development for several months, with completion expected before the next school year.

“This implementation will help us avoid any long-term outage of the Synergy Student System in the future,” the district said.

“Through this experience, changes and fixes will be made to improve upon this backup. For example, we have an on-premises and a cloud-based backup solution.”

After WUSA9 disclosed the extent of the incident Wednesday afternoon, the district issued the following statement to parents and students:

Washington County Public Schools (WCPS) wants to keep our school community up to date regarding the ongoing Synergy Student System outage. The full restoration of Synergy, including ParentVUE and StudentVUE, is still anticipated to occur next week. WCPS would like to share more about the circumstances behind the outage and the process moving forward.

We understand, and can relate to, parents’ and guardians’ concerns regarding their child’s grades. We assure you, we are working diligently to determine a resolution with options that are in the best interest of our students with respect to 4th grading/marking period grades.

In addition, we also acknowledge this leaves school administrators, teachers, counselors, and other school support staff with questions about providing accurate and fair student grades for the remainder of the school year. It is evident that many teachers have various ways of tracking student progress and assignments; we want to ensure we fully take into consideration how those methods can be utilized to move forward with 4th marking period assignments that were recorded before the outage. We are developing a plan for inputting 4th marking period assignments for when Synergy returns online, and we will provide another update when we have determined those details.

No personal student information was compromised in this instance. The following information will be rebuilt in Synergy from February 10th through April 27th:

Attendance

  • Course History

    Synergy Student Grades (for grading periods 1, 2, 3)

    New Students/Transfers

    Student Classes and Sections

    Discipline Incidents

    WCPS has been utilizing Synergy Student Systems for the last five years. The school system has also relied on a vendor who has been contracted to supervise, monitor, and manage WCPS’ backup data storage environment since 2012. In previous communications, we discussed the new backup system that will be housed at the former Central Office building with an additional backup to the Cloud. When this system first came into planning, it was designed to be the central backup for all WCPS data.

    After the April 29th outage occurred, other servers were able to be restored quickly, like Food Services and Transportation. This information had already been switched to the new backup system, which is a partnership with Innovative, Inc. of Hagerstown. The new backup system was selected through a competitive bid process and was noted for its ability to give WCPS additional control over the backup, the system’s proven reliability, and its exceptional data recovery and monitoring capabilities.

    WCPS takes seriously the preservation of student grades and school information. Corrective actions have already been taken, and WCPS servers are currently backing up to the new system. This measure will address the likelihood of a long-term outage in the future.

    We will continue to provide you new information as we work through this process. Once again, your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated.