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JCPS Scrambles To Find New Web Platform After Pranksters Disrupt Classes

Liz Schlemmer

Days into the school year, Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) is swapping web platforms from Google Meet to Microsoft Teams, after several online classes were disrupted by pranksters on the first day of school. At least eight high schools, including Southern High School, have suspended live sessions until the new Microsoft platform is in place.

"Based on the issues encountered yesterday, Southern will be going to asynchronous learning for the remainder of the week," Southern principal Tyler Shearonwrote in a letter to parents Wednesday. "Asynchronous learning" means non-live instruction, such as watching pre-recorded video lessons, or completing assignments. "We are working to ensure we have a tight system that protects students and teachers in our current virtual setting," he wrote.

Disruption of live instruction throws a major wrench in the districts’ revamped remote learning plan, known as NTI 2.0. JCPS is starting of the school year in nontraditional instruction (NTI) due to the coronavirus pandemic. Live or "synchronous" classes were supposed to be a critical piece of the plan.

Shearon wrote that some students got into online classrooms they were not assigned to, and disrupted live instruction.

"The behavior that took place today was inappropriate and will not be tolerated," he wrote.

JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy confirmed there were "a few isolated incidents" at middle and high schools, but did not say how many, or at which ones.

Murphy would not say what kinds of behaviors students engaged in, but WFPL News witnessed a prank on a high school U.S. history class at The Academy @ Shawnee. A student who was not in the class entered the meeting, and played and sang along to a song with sexual lyrics. The teacher was unable to permanently mute her. The student continued for about 10 minutes until the other students, frustrated, admonished her and she signed off.

Schools were looking for new platforms that have a virtual waiting room, Murphy said, and the ability to kick students out of the meeting if they were behaving inappropriately. Late Wednesday, the district decided to switch to Microsoft Teams.

"ZOOM-bombing," or intrusions to classes held through ZOOM, was an issue for many school districts across the country in the spring. It's why JCPS quickly pivoted away from ZOOM to Google Meet during the first round of NTI.

It's clear from Tuesday, Google Meet has similar security issues.

"We are all in a new space with virtual learning," Murphy said when asked why the district did not foresee the potential for such antics. "We're looking to see what is the best path forward to make sure it does not happen again."

Teachers will be trained this week on the new Microsoft platform, and Murphy said live instruction is expected to resume at all schools next week.

"We know how important live instruction is for that interaction, that engagement, it feels much more like school--as close as you can feel to having in-person school," she said.

In the meantime, instruction at all schools continues. Schools that have called off live classes are still expecting students to engage in other ways, such as watching pre-recorded video lessons and completing assignments on Google Classroom.

This story has been updated.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.