Miami Herald | by Colleen Wright | September 10, 2020
The Miami-Dade County School Board has voted unanimously to stop using My School Online, the district’s controversial new online learning platform many say is at the center of the failed start of school.
The board voted to sever ties just before 2 a.m. Thursday, 13 hours after the meeting began. Teachers can begin using other platforms immediately.
The debate and vote stretched into the middle of the night because the School Board had to finish public comment on Vice Chair Steve Gallon’s catch-all proposal to get to the bottom of what went wrong. In the first board meeting since school began Aug. 31, nearly 400 teachers and parents submitted comments that were overwhelmingly negative about the online platform.
Only two comments were read by 6 p.m. Wednesday, when the board had to adjourn by Florida law to hold its second public hearing to pass a $5 billion budget. The board unanimously passed the budget around 8:45 p.m., and members resumed hearing public comment.
Tensions ran high as the night went on. Marta Perez, who will have served 22 years on the board in November, called it “one of the worst meetings, in all due respect, we’ve ever had at the school district.”
Gallon amended his item to include severing ties with the company, which was the crux of Perez’s item. In total, four board members proposed items that targeted the failures that plagued the district’s first week of school.
My School Online is run by the for-profit tech education company K12. Its investors included Michael Milken, the convicted junk-bond king who President Donald Trump pardoned earlier this year, and current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In 2016, former California Attorney General and current Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris oversaw a $168.5 million settlement with K12 over alleged violations of the state’s laws against false claims, false advertising and unfair competition.
Miami-Dade School Board member Martin Karp asked what happens now in virtual classrooms without K12. Gallon said teachers can use other platforms, pointing to language in his proposal that includes “available approved options for distance learning that may be used other than” K12.
The school district selected the My School Online platform through K12 because it wanted a one-stop shop for all students and teachers. When schools abruptly shuttered in the spring because of the pandemic, teachers used whatever learning platform they felt comfortable with on such short notice.
Parents complained that the scattered setup last school year was too much to keep track of. District officials recently warned that reverting to that system this school year would make it hard to track students’ participation online.
But the start of school last week with K12 proved to be nightmare for students, parents and teachers. Various technical troubles prevented them from logging in, and then a cyberattack against the school system made things worse.
The school district last week told teachers and students in grades 6 through 12 to stop using K12 and instead use Microsoft Teams and Zoom, citing national glitches with the platform for secondary students. Since then, many elementary schools and teachers have also moved to Teams and Zooms despite being told to keep using K12 because of tech glitches.
Many parents and teachers have said that the felt that beyond technical difficulties, K12’s curriculum was not appropriate for younger students.
A sullen Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said before the vote that the School Board would have a final say on K12 and that no further announcements will come from the district.
“This was a low point for me, a low point for our school system,” he said. “This was not our finest moment. It did not begin the way we expected.”
Carvalho reassured that no money has been paid to K12, including the $15.3 million sticker price. The district has released a contract that was not signed by Carvalho.
The district, Carvalho reminded the board, has also used K12 for virtual learning opportunities for a decade.
The School Board also approved another Gallon proposal that closed the loophole of how the district procured My School Online. The district pointed to policy that said it does not need board approval or bids to buy curriculum.
Similar proposals by Perez and Susie Castillo targeting cybersecurity and the K12 platform were delayed indefinitely. Board members said those topics were already covered.
The board also voted Thursday to approve accepting $119 million in federal CARES Act funding. The rest of Wednesday’s School Board agenda will be discussed at another board meeting on Monday.
On the first day of the 2020-2021 school year, Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho recounts the software outage that hindered connection to online learning for thousands of students within the Miami-Dade Public Schools system, during a press conference at iPrep Academy in Miami, Florida on Monday, August 31, 2020. DANIEL A. VARELA DVARELA@MIAMIHERALD.COM
Featured photo: Alberto M. Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, holds a press conference after the arrest of a high school student, 16, accused of some of the cyberattacks plaguing the school system in its first week of classes. BY AL DIAZ