Virginia Distance Learning Disaster Prompts Resignation

The CTO of Fairfax County Public Schools has resigned after the district's repeated failure to successfully roll out remote learning during the COVID-19–related school closures.

Fairfax County has twice attempted unsuccessfully to implement a distance learning app that would allow its nearly 200,000 students to access education remotely.

In the midst of the debacle, Maribeth Luftglass, who has served as assistant superintendent of information technology for the district since 1999, tendered her resignation.

Lucy Caldwell, a spokesperson for the school district, said that Fairfax County plans to name an interim chief technology officer soon and is currently searching nationwide for a permanent replacement.

The district began offering remote instruction in partnership with technology platform Blackboard four weeks after shuttering schools on March 13. Almost immediately, students and parents complained of being unable to log on and of experiencing technical glitches, including poor audio and frozen video.

Those who were able to access the system during its April 14 debut encountered inappropriate conduct from students, such as the posting of anonymous hateful messages in chat groups.

According to the Washington Post, Fairfax canceled school for the rest of the week, and school employees bemoaned the district's inadequate preparation for privacy protocol and technology updates.

While students waited for a system that works, Blackboard and district officials have reportedly bickered over who is to blame for the inadequacy of Fairfax County's distance learning solution.

According to Education Week, Blackboard Chief Product Officer Tim Tomlinson said during a recent school board meeting that Fairfax officials had neglected to implement necessary features and updates, while Luftglass said the company hadn't informed her team of those requirements.

Despite two failed attempts to offer online learning, the district has chosen to continue using learning management system Blackboard Learn and virtual classroom solution  Blackboard Collaborate. 

Caldwell said alternative tools were being explored to facilitate remote learning.

“We have now moved on and are offering other options for teachers and students to connect,” said Caldwell.

The inability of one of the largest and richest school systems in America to provide online learning to its students has prompted the formation of an advisory panel of external technology experts.

The district announced last week that it has retained a law firm to conduct an independent review of the flopped rollout.

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