World

NYC Revived Remote Schooling for a Day. It Was a Mess.

New York City public schools on Tuesday embarked on their first major experiment with remote learning since the coronavirus pandemic. More than 900,000 students were asked to join virtual classes during the winter storm.

It didn’t go well.

Many teachers, parents and students trying to log on found that they were locked out of their classrooms. Instead of joining their video meetings, they received an error message: “The service that you are trying to reach is temporarily unavailable.”

“It seems like a very wide issue,” said Jay Brown, an elected parent leader in southern Brooklyn, who was trying to help his children log on while he attempted to work from home.

He added: “I know this is a huge undertaking. But the preparedness just seems lacking.”

On social media, dozens of people described a chaotic morning that recalled their worst memories of pandemic-era education.

“Total disaster,” Sam Green, who opted to take his 7-year-old son to McCarren Park to play in the snow, said in an interview. “I texted the teacher ‘Am I the only one having problems?’ And like, no — the whole system crashed, even the principal can’t get on.”

Students dawdled in their first period classes with cameras off, waiting for teachers who had not been able to log in. Some were only able to get on after repeatedly refreshing their sites. Others were kicked out of online meetings. As parents and educators took on the role of makeshift tech support, several schools fully called off meetings and classes until at least 10 a.m., unable even to take attendance.

One parent said that by 8:45 a.m., his family had already given up on remote learning for the day, joining others that opted to declare a full snow day.

At midday Tuesday, it was unclear how widespread the technical issues were.

The Education Department said on social media around 8:30 a.m. that it was “experiencing issues with services that require IBM authentication to login.” Officials said an hour later that the company had “added capacity and improvements are rolling out across the system.”

IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The disarray came after the schools chancellor, David C. Banks, said at a news conference on Monday that while he expected some “glitches,” he believed the city was ready for its venture back into remote learning.

“One of the good things that emerged from the pandemic was our preparedness to be ready for moments like this,” Mr. Banks said. “And I think the school system is more than prepared.”

Some students and educators were able to log on without any trouble. Alan Cohen, a parent in Central Queens, had his children, who are in kindergarten and third grade, set up their devices on Monday night — and they successfully joined their virtual rooms.

Their classmates were not so lucky: “At first, there were three kids,” Mr. Cohen said, adding that the parents’ WhatsApp groups for the school and individual classes were “blowing up.”

“The idea that every kid is going to be present for all their classes, all day has kind of gone out the window,” he said.

The city bought more than 550,000 iPads for children and 175,000 Chromebook laptops during the pandemic, and the era of remote learning it ushered in has prompted many school districts across the nation to forgo traditional days off for winter weather.

But Tuesday’s debacle was certain to prompt a wave of pushback in New York. Shekar Krishnan, a city councilman who represents parts of northern Queens, wrote on social media that the administration “should’ve just given them the damn snow day!”

Some schools that are not administered by the Education Department did exactly that.

“It’s just an old-school snow day,” said Arthur Samuels, the founder of a charter high school in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood.

“Too many students need to care for younger siblings, and we know how subpar remote instruction is,” Mr. Samuels said on social media. “We’ll see everyone back in person tomorrow. Enjoy the snow!”

Olivia Bensimon contributed reporting.

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