Area schools kick off remote learning programs, though tech glitches cause hiccups for many on day one

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With schools buildings closed the rest of the academic year, area districts this week began rolling out continuous learning plans for students stuck at home — though there were reports of hiccups for many trying to use district-issued technology to conduct online instruction.

Several Shawnee Mission parents and teachers reported connectivity issues with the district’s virtual private network (VPN) on Monday, leading to delays.

David Smith, chief communications officer for the district, said the district had addressed and resolved the major VPN connectivity issue by Monday afternoon. Information and communications technology staff became aware of the issue at around 10:15 a.m. and had implemented a fix by around 1:20 p.m., he said, adding that residual issues are being processed through the Web Help Desk “as quickly as possible.”

Concerns with the VPN and connectivity have been present with the district’s 1:1 technology initiative since it launched more than five years ago, with students and teachers reporting frequent problems with district-issued devices.

“On any given day, the district sees some device connectivity issues and works with clients to resolve them as quickly as possible,” Smith said. “This is to be expected when managing nearly 30,000 devices.”

He said the district would focus on smoothing out VPN access now that so many teachers and students will be relying on it each day.

“We will be monitoring closely the appliances that handle student VPN connections in an effort to intercept problems more quickly, should they crop up,” Smith said. “Additionally, we will be doing additional pre-emptive maintenance on the impacted hardware as well as working with the hardware vendor to see if a root cause for the problem can be discovered.”

Smith would not specify which school resources are only available behind the VPN wall, citing security reasons.

Shawnee Mission School District continuous learning guidelines

The Shawnee Mission School District unveiled its guidelines for continuous learning last Friday.

Smith said the guidelines function as a framework for continuity of learning during an extended school closure.

“We are looking for ways to continue learning for all of our students; we want opportunities for them to engage in meaningful activities that will further their growth and development,” Smith said, citing the district’s objectives for personalized learning for each student. “We hope that our teachers will continue to work to find ways to help kids to continue to engage in learning.”

When possible, district-issued devices went home with students.

Smith said district staff hopes students can take the time to engage with continuous learning opportunities, but staff also acknowledges that changes in routine and the unknown may be traumatizing for students.

Recognizing these issues, plus inconsistent internet access across the district, Smith said district staff expect the guidelines to be managed at the individual school level, as each school’s administration sees fit.

“We want our kids to take care of themselves; we don’t want this to feel like any kind of pressure for kids or parents,” Smith said. “We’re figuring this out, and there probably needs to be a measure of grace associated with it. These are unprecedented times. We will get through it together. For now, we want to take care of each other, continue to find ways to connect with our kids and support each other.”

Smith added that K-2 students lack devices at home, and not all K-12 students have access to quiet spaces where they can focus on learning. “All of those things have to be taken into account, and teachers will need to make sure that they’re providing alternatives that meet the needs of their school community.”

Smith said some suggested alternatives include sending packages of learning materials or lesson recordings to a student’s home, or asking students to come to the parking lot of their school and utilize the school’s wifi to download materials for them to work on at home.

USD 232 continuous learning guidelines

USD 232 administration is planning to begin learning opportunities with students beginning April 1 and the district has developed guidelines which serve as the framework for teachers.

Two separate guidelines are in place for elementary (K-5) and secondary (6-12) grade levels. USD 232 is also developing a webpage with a collection of online resources and information.

In a video published on the district’s website on Monday, Superintendent Frank Harwood stressed the need for students and families to take care of themselves first.

“I want you to know that we will be doing our very best to help create a sense of normalcy and calm for your students,” Harwood said. “It will take all of us working together to get through these next few weeks.”

Harwood said the district will utilize a combination of online resources and print materials for remote learning. Specifics will come from each individual school building, but online resources could include utilizing Zoom, an online video conference platform, recorded lessons on videos and email.

In general, the goal is to ensure students “learn a few concepts well instead of covering a lot of material,” Harwood said. This can be done through project-based learning, which allows students to utilize resources available to them to grasp new concepts.

The continuous learning plan for elementary (K-5) students is here.

The continuous learning plan for secondary (6-12) students is here.