Chesterfield County Public Schools’ network issues ‘largely have been resolved’ after being down for hours on the first day of school

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — When Chesterfield County Public School students tried to log into class for the first day of school this morning, they were met with a network outage.

The outage came as tens of thousands of students and teachers tried to sign in at the same time. Before 10 a.m., the school district said some students had been able to log into the system, and others should attempt to log in every five minutes.

In a message sent to families and staff at 11:13 a.m. on Tuesday, Chesterfield schools’ spokesman Tim Bullis apologized for the inconvenience and said that the issues “largely have been resolved.”

“We apologize. This morning was not the best morning for our school division,” Bullis, the executive director of communications and community engagement for Chesterfield schools, wrote in the message.

“It certainly was not the way that we expected to serve and support students in the virtual learning environment. We are sorry for any inconvenience created for families, and angst created for students who struggled to get to their online classes earlier this morning.”

Many parents expressed their frustration with the county on social media.

However, others seemed to be a little more understanding of the county’s first day mishap.

The district initially released a statement that they were aware of the outage. More than two hours later, the school system posted Bullis’ message — which can be read below — on Twitter.

Team Chesterfield families and staff,

We apologize. This morning was not the best morning for our school division. It certainly was not the way that we expected to serve and support students in the virtual learning environment. We are sorry for any inconvenience created for families, and angst created for students who struggled to get to their online classes earlier this morning.

The network issues that caused a disruption to students’ and staff’s teaching and learning opportunities for about two hours this morning largely have been resolved. Our staff members and students are now able to log into their Rapid Identity account (my.ccpsnet.net) to access their various instructional applications.

Below is a look at what occurred and what steps we are taking to see that Day 2 starts out more smoothly.

What happened?

At 7:30 a.m. today, many of our middle schools began to open the virtual doors for classes. Onsite during a visit at Robious Middle, we saw virtual classes engaged with nearly all of the students online and participating. Things were going well.

As we began to have more students start to sign on for an 8 a.m. start to their school day and ultimately an 8:30 a.m. start time for elementary schools and high schools, Rapid Identity started to have problems with the number of students logging on and student ID authentication slowed to a crawl.

We immediately reached out to our partners to ask for their assistance. Working with Amazon Web Services, Rapid Identity was able to double their capacity to process information by about 9:30 a.m. The log-in process for students started to improve for some families at that time.

By 10 a.m., the system was nearly at full functional capacity, and students were joining their classes.

Why didn’t we test system capacity?

Quite honestly, it is difficult to replicate 60,000 students signing on with a one-hour time period without actually doing it. That is not meant to be an excuse; it is just an unfortunate fact. The MAP testing that was conducted during the past two weeks did not yield any glimpse of issues. Approximately 36,000 math and reading tests were completed, involving students in grades 3-10.

Moving forward, we will work to integrate stronger testing strategies and procedures into our work.

What are we doing moving forward?

We are continuing to work with Rapid Identity to make sure that the issues experienced this morning are not replicated.

The school division has been notified that the increased capacity for logging in, student ID authentication, etc. will remain in place to support our work. Rapid Identity and Amazon Web Services stand ready to assist.

With the process in place that was implemented mid-morning and seeing student success logging since that time, we feel confident that Wednesday’s start will be a much smoother one.

Tim Bullis, CCPS’ executive director of communications and community engagement

“I was sitting there like, what do I do!?,” said Alyssa Preneta, the mother of two Chesterfield students dealing with the technical difficulties. She took off of work Tuesday to make sure her children could acces their online schooling. 

Preneta’s fifth-grader, Alazae, tried to log into his virtual classroom around 8:30 Tuesday morning.

“It was saying the page could not be loaded. I tried to reload, it just kept going back to it,” Preneta said. 

Her first-grade student, Xzavier, was having other technical problems. He could not get into his laptop to begin with, which was provided to him by Chesterfield County Public Schools. “His name, his password would not go through. It would not work,” Preneta told 8News. 

“We appreciate and do apologize to our families,” said Shawn Smith, a spokesperson for the school district. Smith addressed the network problems, saying the online system could not handle the more than 60,000 students and 8,000 staff members logging in at once. 

“As the morning progressed, certainly as it got from 7:30, 8:30, we noticed more issues there,” he told 8News. Smith said the server must authenticate student logins and the overwhelming number of people trying to log in at one time made the connectivity slow down. 

The school system kept parents updated with emails and worked with their third-party providers to increase the portal’s capacity. “We have basically doubled our server capacity,” Smith said. 
He told 8News the issue was widely resolved by about 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“Maybe they should’ve prepped a little earlier for all of this, see how many exact students are going to be on this website and see if they could even afford everyone to be on virtual,” Preneta said. 

Smith said they did some testing over the summer, but it is difficult to replicate the large number of students and staff that attempted to log in at one time on Tuesday. 

“Why not try and test with all the students before the first day?” 8News reporter Laura Perrot asked Smith. “That’s a really great question. Certainly, if we had done that in hindsight, that would’ve allowed an invitation perspective for families and staff members to log on at one point in time,” Smith replied. 

Smith said if parents and students have issues with virtual learning, they are advised to reach out to their specific teacher and school. 

He said they know there will be issues along the way, but now that the server has doubled in capacity, the school system hopes the coming days will be much smoother. 

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