After technical snafu, NYC says staggered school start times may be necessary for remote snow days

After technical snafu, NYC says staggered school start times may be necessary for remote snow days

After technical glitches prevented many families from logging in for remote learning during a snowstorm last month, officials on Wednesday presented a temporary fix: staggered start times.

The Education Department no longer cancels classes during inclement weather in part due to a growing number of school holidays and a state mandate to provide 180 days of school. As a snowstorm threatened to upend commutes on Feb. 13, city officials announced schools would operate remotely — the first citywide test of that strategy. But many families and educators encountered error messages when they tried to log in, drawing intense criticism.

During a City Council oversight hearing on Wednesday focused on the technical snafus, Education Department officials said the problem stemmed from too many users logging in at once. The city outsources the login process for its remote learning platforms to IBM, and both Education Department and IBM officials acknowledged the technical specifications in their contract did not guarantee everyone would be able to sign on during a short window.

The city is looking for a long-term solution to avoid spreading out start times, but Education Department officials said it will be necessary for now in the event of another pivot to remote learning.

“If we have a remote learning day tomorrow we should be working to stagger start times, which we agree is not ideal from a student and staff perspective,” Emma Vadehra, the department’s chief operating officer, told city lawmakers. “But it’s pretty important to us that we get it right if we do need to transition.”

Vedehra suggested that start times could be assigned by grade level and would need to be spread over a little more than one hour to ensure the sign-in process goes smoothly. Officials did not provide a timeline for coming up with a more permanent solution and some elected officials raised concerns about the approach.

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