The first week of virtual learning within the Killeen Independent School District has had its fair share of hiccups.
Since starting the virtual school year on Monday, some students have struggled to log in to the virtual platforms and others have had internet issues once they have logged in. And in at least one case, a student’s Zoom call with educators was hacked, displaying vulgar language on the computer screen.
Taina Maya, the spokeswoman for the district addressed the first week of virtual learning in an emailed statement to the Herald.
“As a district, we remain committed to re-engaging our students in the learning process this Fall. We recognize that this school year, particularly the first several weeks, will be anything but ‘normal’,” Maya said Thursday. “Our technology helplines answered over 13,500 calls on day one, but the volume drastically decreased on Tuesday with only 3,952 calls. The reduction in calls shows us our students are adjusting to the new modality of instruction. We are continually working to identify students who are in need of a device or access to the internet and we will not penalize students and families for situations they, nor we, can completely control. This includes grades, attendance, and other factors that we have long associated with a more “traditional” model of education. It is our goal to provide assistance to every family and engage our students in daily instruction.”
Maya said that over 39,000 students engaged in virtual learning on Monday, and by Wednesday that number was around the same. In total, the district has around 45,914 students enrolled, according to Maya.
Therefore, between 6,000 and 7,000 students have not engaged in the virtual learning platform, according to Maya, adding students won’t be penalized for missing the first week of online instruction.
Jennifer Massa is a mother of three students in the district.
One of her children attends Reeces Creek Elementary School, one attends Roy J. Smith Middle School and one attends the Early College High School.
Massa said her students have had trouble logging in since Monday and the internet has been very slow.
“A lot of it is the lag. We have devices from the district and it is so slow. I spend so much time helping my kids log in that they could not do it by themselves,” Massa said.
She added that sometimes her kids will use her personal laptop and will be able to work quick and effectively, but all three can’t use it at the same time. When her children use the district’s iPads or other devices they run very slow.
Massa said the internet at her house is fast and they have never had issues before.
She said that Maya told parents that kids would only have to be on the internet for around four hours a day but that has not been the case.
“My kids are on the internet via a laptop or an iPad from around 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m. in the afternoon. It takes too long and they are very frustrated,” Massa said. “We have had tears everyday.”
Massa also said her Early College High School student had her zoom call hacked, and inappropriate messages, loud music and inappropriate links could be seen in the online call to a KISD educator.
She sent an email to the district saying the call was hacked, and the Early College High School reacted quickly to correct the problem, Massa said.
John Craft, the superintendent of KISD, also responded to her email.
“Thank you for reaching out and making us aware. We have worked to ensure security settings have been reinforced to alleviate these types of security breaches in the future. Thank you again for letting me know,” Craft said in the email
The Herald also reached out to KISD about how the district is working to prevent Zoom calls getting hacked, however, KISD did not answer that question.
‘Get them back in school’
Everett Mulcahy is the father of three students within the district: two 5-year-old twins with special needs and a 10-year-old.
He said the virtual learning has been difficult because he and his wife work every day.
“We don’t have the background or resources to teach our twins with special needs like they need to be taught,” Mulcahy said.
He added that they did not have the proper log-in information or password on Monday to log the students into the virtual platform, but they have logged in since then.
Mulcahy provided a straightforward solution to the virtual learning problems.
“Get them back in school is all I can say,” Mulcahy said.
Access to technology has been a struggle statewide, according to a news release from the Texas State Teachers Association.
“The Texas State Teachers Association supports virtual learning as a safe way to provide learning opportunities to Texas children while protecting them, their teachers and their families from the dangerous coronavirus. But our state and federal governments must significantly increase funding for this effort so that all students, regardless of family income, race, ethnicity or home address, have access to the tools they need,” TSTA President Ovidia Molina said.
Some data from a statewide TSTA study showed:
Students whose families are below the poverty line are much less likely (43%) than their middle and upper-income peers (74%) to have both computers and broadband access at home.
White students (78%) have greater access to both broadband and computers than Blacks (63%) or Hispanics (59%). The gap between Hispanic and white students in Texas is larger than in the country as a whole.
Only 70% of all school-aged children in Texas have access at home to what can be considered high-speed internet access.
33% lack either a computer or broadband access.
KISD is conducting virtual learning only for all students until Sept. 8 when the students that choose to can return to in-person learning.
The reason for the buffer of virtual learning stems from the Bell County Health District announcing around late July that schools should not open for in-person learning until at least after Labor Day.
When students can return to in-person learning, the parents and students will be able to choose what platform they want to learn on: Continue with virtual or attend classes at school.