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Marin County, Calif., Schools Weather Zoom Outages

The outage at the company based in San Jose, Calif., spread across the state and nation just as distance learning is getting underway in Marin school districts, as well as in other schools across California.

by Keri Brenner, The Marin Independent Journal / August 25, 2020
Sausalito is a city in Marin County, Calif.

(TNS) — Marin, Calif., students and teachers pivoted to alternative online platforms after a widespread outage at the video conferencing company Zoom early Monday.

The outage at the San Jose-based company spread across the state and nation just as distance learning is getting underway in Marin school districts.

Most schools in the state are starting the fall term in distance learning mode due to the coronavirus pandemic. Marin is still on the state virus watch list, meaning that schools are under public health orders to stay in distance learning until the virus case numbers begin declining below certain key metrics.

“I got a message from the (San Rafael City Schools) district IT at 6:58 a.m. letting us know that Zoom was out,” said Cecilia Perez, principal of Bahia Vista Elementary School in San Rafael. “I reached out to our (grade level) reps to let them know to tell all our teachers to switch any Zoom meetings to Google Meet.”

Zoom deployed a fix at about 8:05 a.m., according to information posted via social media. Service was fully restored an hour or two later, according to Eric Yuan, the CEO.

“We had a service disruption that affected many of our customers,” Yuan said via Twitter. “We know the responsibility we have to keep your meetings, classrooms & important events running. I’m personally very sorry & we will all do our best to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Perez said the switch to Google Meet on Monday was easily completed and there were no other issues with Zoom the rest of the day. Other than a few glitches with students having trouble logging into their classes, attendance was up 75% from Thursday’s first day of classes, when 57 students failed to log in, Perez said.

Only 16 students out of 570 didn’t log in Monday, she said.

“We did tons of outreach between Thursday and Monday to families where kids didn’t log in,” Perez said. “Some were just waiting for the Wi-Fi to go online at the Canal area in San Rafael.”

Tech specialists reported only one Wi-Fi connectivity issue Monday with a teacher at Coleman Elementary School, according to spokesperson Christina Perrino. The district had Wi-Fi outages at San Rafael and Madrone high schools on Aug. 17 and 18 after the PG&E rolling blackout earlier this month caused damage to the system, she said.

“The internet was restored by 10 a.m. on Tuesday, before the first day of school,” Perrino said.

At present, San Rafael’s IT department team is offering free drop-in tech support from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays this week and next week at San Rafael High School.

“If they didn’t get a Chromebook last week, they can also pick one up there,” Perrino said.

While San Rafael schools started classes last Thursday, Lagunitas School District was one of several Marin districts to begin classes on Monday, said Anita Collison, a fifth-grade teacher at Lagunitas School.

“The first day went pretty well,” said Collison, who taught a full attendance roster of 24 students via Google Classroom and Zoom. “It was a challenge for us, just getting back, and having everyone being awake and present.”

She said she didn’t have any technical issues, except dealing with spots of weak Wi-Fi bandwidth that are common in the San Geronimo Valley.

“When I call on certain kids, they sound like robots,” she said. “Wi-Fi is definitely challenging in the valley. Now that we have all these kids online, it makes it more challenging.”

She said families in Woodacre and Forest Knolls appear to have the most difficulties with connectivity.

Collison said the Marin County Free Library has loaned “hotspots” to some families, which has helped quite a bit. She added that all her students appeared in class “upright” and fully clothed Monday — in contrast to distance learning during the spring “shelter-in-place,” when some kids “looked like they just got out of bed.”

“I sent out an email to the families before classes started,” Collison said. “No PJs; kids have got to be dressed for class.”

Lagunitas schools are expected to remain in distance learning until Oct. 1, when the district will reevaluate the public health and virus situation, Collison said. If they deem it is safe to have some students come back to classrooms, that decision will go before the board of trustees in mid-October.

If approved by the board, the district schools would go to a hybrid model on Nov. 2 of no more than 12 students per class, and only half the student population on campus at a time, she said.

“The district is definitely being really thoughtful about safety,” Collison said.

In Novato, teacher Mariah Fisher said there were no major technical issues, but that teachers in general were booked solid with full classes of students. In some cases, that included “combo” classes where students of more than one grade are combined.

“We definitely have a lot of combos, more than normal, which is unfortunate,” Fisher said. “But the teachers seem to be tackling it with full force. It is such a hard time for everyone.”

Kris Cosca, Novato Unified School District superintendent, said both Novato Federation of Teachers and the district agreed to a memorandum of understanding on distance learning that included class sizes and combination classes. The MOU was ratified by the teachers union earlier this month, he said.

“We are asking a lot of our NUSD family,” Cosca said. “This includes all of the employees in our system, our students and our parents.”

The two sides have not agreed yet on terms for a hybrid model — should that become available under public health orders. Additional talks on the hybrid are expected later, Cosca said.

“Things are not going perfectly, but as problems arise, we work to address them, together,” Cosca added. “I personally appreciate all of the sacrifices being made to support the learning of our students.”

©2020 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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