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Fresno, Calif., Schools Cancel Class Due to Ransomware

With the fall semester in full swing, schools across the nation continue to struggle with the new technology issues that distance learning brings, including ransomware attacks and downed fiber lines.

by Ashleigh Panoo, The Fresno Bee / September 1, 2020
Shutterstock/FrameRatio

(TNS) — With the fall semester in full swing, schools across the nation continue to struggle with the new technology issues that distance learning brings, including ransomware attacks and downed fiber lines.

Selma Unified took down its entire network Friday after a ransomware attack, according to a message sent to parents.

“The District IT team is working with a cyber security consultant to take immediate steps to bring the network back to normal operation,” the message read.

Afternoon classes were canceled Friday, and students were encouraged to work independently.

Most systems were back up on Monday, according to Rachel Starbuck, a teacher and engagement coordinator with the Selma Unified Teachers Association.

At Madera Unified School District, teachers were told they could work from home Wednesday and Thursday after a fiber line was damaged in northern Madera County, causing an internet outage.

The outage lasted about 15 hours, according to Madera Unified spokesperson George Garnica.

“Everyone is back to normal work schedules today and teachers are again doing distance learning from their classrooms,” he said on Monday.

Schools across the country are facing many of the same technology problems.

Zoombombing, when an unauthorized person enters a live session, sometimes yelling profanities or dropping pornography, has also been a problem for some California districts.

During the first week at Clovis Unified, a “young person” entered a Kastner Intermediate School class and yelled something inappropriate and held up a “picture of some kind” before being removed from the session.

A similar incident happened to a fifth grade class in San Leandro, according to a report from the East Bay Times.

Fresno Unified began its first week of learning with lower-than-usual attendance compared to previous years, but it is steadily increasing, according to Superintendent Bob Nelson.

“Things aren’t quite perfect still, but we continue to get better and better every day, and that’s something to celebrate,” Nelson said on Friday. “We’re proud to see student attendance is actually increasing, and more technology fixes are getting to our families, and our staff of teachers are getting more and more experienced at distance learning every day.”

Those improvements include getting second monitors and headsets to teachers and fixing tablet problems with students, he said.

As the central San Joaquin Valley comes out of the deadliest month to date during the coronavirus pandemic, schools face hurdles to reopening. Hospitalizations and average daily case rates are trending down, according to the health department, but more people died in August than any other month since the COVID-19 outbreak in March.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced that small groups of students could return for in-person learning, including those enrolled in special education classes, English learners, and homeless or other at-risk students.

The state also made minor changes to reopening guidelines, replacing the county “watchlist” with a new colored tiers system. Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare counties are colored purple, meaning schools cannot open. Once counties reach a lower tier and remain there for at least two weeks, schools are allowed to open campuses, following guidelines.

Elementary schools can apply for reopening waivers from local health departments, which would allow the schools to open before the state allows. So far, two schools have applied in Fresno County, but the health department has not yet granted the waivers.

©2020 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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