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Education

Miami is done with K12 platform, but some teachers scrambled when lessons disappeared

 

It took 13 hours and 400 public speakers for the Miami-Dade County School Board to decide it had heard enough.

The marathon meeting started at 1 p.m. Wednesday and culminated in the board’s vote at 2 a.m. Thursday to stop using My School Online, the controversial online learning platform run by a company called K12 that many say is largely to blame for the school district’s extraordinarily disastrous start of the school year.

The amended proposal brought forward by vice chair Steve Gallon allowed the school district to use the platform through Friday — and then immediately sever ties.

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While some see the immediate end of K12’s platform as a blessing, teachers and families in younger grades woke up hours later Thursday morning to discover lesson plans already lost and the link to the K12 platform redirected to another website.

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Given little notice and communication, school communities scrambled once again Thursday to continue teaching and learning. Instructions on how to access Microsoft Teams, the platform the district recommended teachers pivot to, were sent to families at 9:56 a.m. Elementary students start the school day at 8:35 a.m.

A teacher at Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes texted families with the news at 8:26 a.m. The teacher said the lesson plans for this week were already inaccessible.

“Please give us until 9 a.m. as we scramble to come up with a plan,” the teacher wrote. “We are sorry. We did not know this until a few minutes ago.”

A robocall was sent out to families of Treasure Island Elementary in North Bay Village around 10 a.m. Before getting the news, a teacher locked out of the K12 lesson plans told students to think of a science project, read a book and figure out the theme.

A teacher at Gateway K-8 Learning Center in Homestead said she discovered at 8 a.m. that she didn’t have access to K12, rendering her lesson plans for that day useless.

“It would have been best to provide us with a day to transition,” she said.

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said early Thursday morning that the district would not make any further announcements regarding the school district’s use of the My School Online platform following the board’s decision.

Asked why the district did not take advantage of a transition period, spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla wrote in an email: “The decision was done expeditiously in order to avoid further disruption that could result in additional loss of learning, which continues to be our priority.”

She also said the district was in the process of “creating a bridge and easing a transition for students and teachers,” but the amendment to Gallon’s board item “changed our direction.”

Gallon said Thursday he amended the item to give district staff until Friday to settle its business with K12 and to allow time for schools to transition to other learning platforms.

“I didn’t contemplate a switch happening that morning,” he said.

At 7:41 a.m., the district sent an email notifying principals about the board’s overnight decision and instructed them to inform teachers to start using Microsoft Teams and Zoom to teach their classes. The email said K12 began migrating students off the platform Thursday.

Calzadilla, the school district spokeswoman, pointed out that many teachers were already familiar with Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Teachers were trained on those platforms in early April after the school district shuttered schools due to COVID-19.

She also said 94% of parents who recently completed a survey indicated that their children were communicating with their teachers on Microsoft Teams.

“We are assisting teachers and principals during this transition back to the platform that they previously trained on and are familiar with,” Calzadilla wrote.

Sonia Diaz, a spokeswoman for the United Teachers of Dade, said in a text: “There still hasn’t been any clear direction given to PreK-5 teachers regarding a plan for curriculum,” but that the union will be working to make any changes necessary to its existing labor agreement.

The district sought out a uniform platform that students of all grade levels could use. Parents complained in the spring that it was too difficult to navigate the many different platforms teachers used. District officials also said it was hard to track how engaged a student was online beyond a one-time login.

My School Online was supposed to be the antidote to remote learning this fall. Over the summer, the district lined up K12’s My School Online.

Teachers, students and their parents quickly became well acquainted with the technical glitches and curriculum shortfalls of My School Online. Before school even started, teachers complained they weren’t able to actually learn the platform hands-on until days before the Aug. 31 start of remote classes.

The cute stock photo of “banana dog” show on K12’s ubiquitous error page became famous. Memes and videos posted on social media mocked — or at least, made light of — the outages.

The district last week told teachers and students in grades 6-12 to get off the My School Online platform and move to Microsoft Teams and Zoom, citing issues with the secondary grade platform on a national level. Some elementary schools and teachers did the same, fed-up with K12’s problems.

The School Board finished early Thursday what it did not start. The district secured a $15.3 million no-bid contract without board approval, citing board policy that allows the district to buy curriculum without approval.

Another proposal authored and successfully passed by Gallon effectively ended that loophole.

Carvalho later revealed that he never signed the contract. He emphasized early Thursday morning that despite K12 providing weeks of training, allowing access to its platform for 275,000 students and 19,000 teachers and making a $1.57 million donation to Carvalho’s nonprofit to give an incentive “valued at up to $100” to teachers who set up their lessons ahead of time, no payments were made to K12.

K12 did not respond to requests for comment.

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Carvalho publicly posted and shared a long manifesto about the failures of the platform and the remedies the school district is undertaking to correct all of last week’s mishaps. The district was beset by cyberattacks, some allegedly at the hands of a 16-year-old South Miami High School student, another unrelated software glitch and missteps by vendors Cisco and Comcast.

Carvalho said he would contract a Senior Executive Chief Information Officer to focus on security procedures and practices, conduct overall data center operations and assess existing technology. He also said he would use up to $5 million of stimulus funding to support infrastructure enhancements and convene a cybersecurity task force.

Marie Izquierdo, the district’s chief academic officer, not only oversees the department that picked the K12 platform, but she is also in charge of the district’s Office of Information Technology.

“We are doing all we can to protect this District, our data security, and give teachers and students a good experience,” Carvalho finished the note. “But the overall experience must be much better than what has been experienced, and we will deliver that. Our community deserves no less.”

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