The Baltimore County Public Schools’ IT help desk was overwhelmed during the days leading up to the start of school, as well as during the first several days of virtual classes.
School administrators told the county school board Tuesday night that from August 30 until September 11, there were more than 8,000 requests for technical support.
“We definitely in the first couple of days were not as responsive as what we would have liked to have been in terms of the number of calls that were in the queue and the length of time individuals were waiting,” said Brian Scriven, the school system’s chief administrative and operations officer.
Scriven said 14 people from the school system’s transportation department were brought over September 10 to help man the phones and that improved wait times.
“We were happy to see that on September 11 at 11:30 we had no calls in the queue, in terms of folks being on hold,” Scriven said.
The briefing on how virtual learning is going so far included a video with teachers and students touting the success of remote learning. At Tuesday night’s meeting, several administrators and board members said teachers and principals worked tirelessly to make distance learning happen.
“It really supported a positive first week back of virtual learning,” said Christina Byers, one of the county’s three community superintendents.
However, on social media and in letters sent to the school board, parents have had a myriad of complaints, including the inability of students to connect to online classes, poor communication by school administrators, and unreasonable class schedules.
Board vice chair Julie Henn asked administrators how a parent could get immediate help if their child is unable to connect online with teachers.
Henn said, “There are lots of different reasons why someone could submit a ticket ranging from ‘I’ve lost the W key on my keyboard to I can’t do anything. And until I get help, I’m sunk. I can’t get into my classes.’”
Administrators advised that a student’s school can be called to try to get help right away.
Henn also wanted to know what an acceptable amount of downtime is for a student who cannot connect to classes.
“Is it 4 hours,” Henn asked. “Is it 8 hours? Is it 2 days? Where are we headed? What would that response time look like?“
Administrators said they need to analyze the data to answer that question and will report back to the school board.
School board members also asked how school attendance is being checked.
“What happens if somebody logs off in the middle of the day or does not come back after their lunch break?” asked board member Moalie Jose
Chief Academic Officer Mary Boswell-McComas said in that case, school administrators would need to reach out to families to make sure students are staying engaged throughout the day.
The board was told that if a student is absent, the home is called that evening. Student board member Josh Muhumuza asked why the calls aren’t happening in the morning as in past years. He said that might help a parent talk with someone at the school if their child is absent because they are having technical trouble logging on to classes.
Muhumuza said parents have told him they have had no way to contact their children’s teachers to let them know the absence was because of technical issues.
“There’s no way for them to communicate their issues to the teachers,” Muhumuza said.
Administrators said they would consider doing that.
Meanwhile, Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams said his staff is finalizing plans to eventually bring small groups of students back to school buildings.
“We’ll be looking at our students receiving services, whether special ed., English language learners,” Williams said.
Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan leaned on school systems to begin bringing some children back to classrooms.