Zoom failure postpones KIPP Academy’s first day of school

On Friday, dozens of Camden families showed up at the Kipp Cooper Norcross Academy schools to gather backpacks, laptops and supplies for a school year that was supposed to start Monday. But Monday morning, technology had different plans for the 7,000 kids of the KIPP Academy charter schools.

“I did not predict this. I didn’t even come close to thinking like, hey, on the first day of school, you know, Zoom’s not going to work,” said Darisha Brooks-Young, a mom of two kids.

“We received the messages that there had been a nationwide outage on Zoom,” said Charlysse Graham, a sixth-grade Team Lead and science teacher at KIPP Lanning Square Middle School. “So we received the message that as an entire district we’re going to postpone until the next day.”

The outage seemed to be worse for the four KIPP schools in Camden than the 11 in Newark, so Newark continued with lessons but didn’t take attendance. But Graham said losing today was really disheartening.

“Just this morning a student was like, ‘I can’t wait to see you.’ And you know, we can’t wait to see them either and we know this summer has been really hard,” Graham said. “So having this opportunity to see them, it was really exciting, and then it felt like the rug was taken from under us.”

Dasir Brooks-Young was ready to start seventh grade. He’s taking the day off in stride.

“Kind of mad that I had to wake up early, but I was really not that mad,” he said.

So far, 616 districts are planning for some form of synchronous learning, which means teachers and students will communicate live through platforms like Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams. But Monday’s outage is creating some serious doubt.

“I am a little worried about that but I hope that even thought they can’t do the actual Zoom, hopefully they can still do the assignments, you know?” Darisha said. “Because they don’t have to be on Zoom to do the assignments.”

When asked if it would put more pressure on her to become a fill-in teacher, she said, “Yeah. But it’s just something I take as it has to be done.”

Gov. Phil Murphy tried to allay fears at his Monday news conference.

“We lived this in the spring, so you had every school district, every private, every charter, every religious school was doing some form of remote learning. And I don’t have any specific insight into why their system crashed, but if we come up with something I’ll let you know. If we can withstand it in the spring, God willing, we’ll be able to do it with, as you saw, the mix, we have a lot of school districts that are going to be either hybrid or in person,” Murphy said.

But most schools in the spring were asynchronous, meaning there was no live learning and students were working independently. The fall could be a game changer.

Graham says she and other teachers are just anxious to get back in the classroom, even if it’s a digital one.

“I’m definitely anxious for teaching live. I know that remotely students doing asynchronous learning, it wasn’t the best for our kids. I’m excited that we get to implement live teaching, because we have learned so many different engagement applications. I think it will definitely enrich things for them,” Brooks-Young said.

If there’s any lesson learned Monday, it’s that technology is unreliable. But the KIPP schools are going to try again Tuesday.