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School resumes in Forsyth after time lost to chill
Officials review first online learning day
WinterWeather 1

FORSYTH COUNTY — Forsyth County students returned to class Friday after being out all week due to winter weather, which left ice-coated fallen trees blocking roads and thousands without power for days.

Although some parents aired concerns on social media about sending their children to school Friday morning, the district stuck with its decision and kept schools — all of which had power — open.

According to system figures, attendance was down just 3 percent compared to Feb. 6, also a Friday. As of mid-January, the system had about 42,500 students.

After-school activities, including high school basketball playoff games, were canceled Friday through 4 p.m. Saturday due to weather forecasts calling for snow showers overnight.

Garry Puetz, director of transportation for the school system, told the school board at a meeting Thursday that drivers ran their routes earlier that day to see where roads were still blocked. They also talked to parents about alternate pick-up points.

Before Friday, however, Thursday marked the first-ever online/itslearning day for the district. According to online feedback, the virtual instruction portal ran slowly.

The school board announced in November that there will be no inclement weather days in the 2015-2016 calendar. This school year’s two days were used up Tuesday and Wednesday, with students out Monday for the President’s Day holiday.

Those two days will be made up on March 16 and April 3, both of which students originally had off.

“We knew we’d have problems with teachers not having power,” said district spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo on the itslearning’s launch.

The website, where teachers create a personalized virtual classroom to upload lessons, slideshows and videos and can post homework and discussions prompts, moved at a sluggish pace throughout Thursday.

Caracciolo said the entire system was rebooted once to a different server in the hopes of allowing swifter access. Students and teachers were reportedly given an hour notice to save any current documents.

“It is asynchronous, so they have five days to complete everything,” she said of the assignments. “Not everyone has to log in … at the same time during school hours. But we understand that may be easier since they’re already home instead of during the weekend.”

In fact, many more students did try to get on the platform at the same time Thursday.

Marty Bray, the district’s chief technology and information officer, presented a report on itslearning during the board meeting.

He said the “saturated” site saw three times as much use Thursday as in the past. This includes times since the beginning of the year when every school ran an online learning drill.

During those drills, teachers posted practice or real assignments on the system for students to complete and upload.

Usually, Bray said, about 2,000 people use the site at the same time. That number reached nearly 7,000 on Thursday.

“We only see that increasing over time, because since the storm was ice there were probably more people without power,” Bray said.

Feedback from the drills voiced both good and bad points to itslearning.

Goals to work on include wrangling more parental support and better mobile access, Bray said. And preventing another Thursday, obviously.

But teachers, parents and students also reported they found the site easier to navigate than expected and they enjoyed the capabilities to connect with the classroom online.

“If anything, it allows us to err on the side of caution for calling off school,” Bray said. “Glitches are better than a school bus getting into an accident.”