While the country’s fourth largest school district continues to grapple with network outages and cyberattacks that have paralyzed online learning, Miami-Dade County’s public schools announced on Wednesday that they had signed the no-bid contract for US $ 15.3 million – Dollars have never signed with K12, the nonprofit of the center of the borough’s unprecedented crisis.
School district CFO Ron Steiger dropped this reveal at a school council meeting to discuss the flaws in K12’s My School Online platform. Tens of thousands of students and teachers were unable to access the system at a disastrous start to this pandemic-ridden school year.
No signed contract with K1
However, the contract with K12 was never carried out, said the CFO, with only one key signature missing: Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s. The district did not pay K12.
The school district has refused to publish the contract under Florida Public Records Act. The school council members have asked to see the contract, but the district has not yet submitted it. The district has introduced an exemption that allows districts to purchase curricula without the approval of the board of directors.
The narrative has changed since Carvalho said Tuesday that the contract had “no secret”. He said it hadn’t been released to the public because he wanted the school council members to see it first – which is against government laws in the sunshine.
These laws also require that records be handed over in a timely manner. My School Online was part of the district’s reopening plan approved by the state on July 17th.
Junk Bond King major investor in K12
The school district signed a data management agreement with K12 that was founded in 1999 by Wall Street financier Ronald Packard. He left the company due to litigation over his inflated projections. Packard’s $ 10 million investor was Michael Milken, the former junk bond king convicted of fraud and pardoned President Donald Trump earlier this year.
School council members, overwhelmed by complaints and indignation from families that a third day in a row had been lost due to technical difficulties, asked for answers. Some saw a way out of the contract with K12.
“How did we get here and how can we fix this and how do we get kids to learn as quickly as possible?” asked board member Marta Perez.
“Was it a handshake? Was it a pat on the back? Was it an email? Was it a wink? “asked Vice Chairman Steve Gallon how the contract came about.
Perez requested to hear directly from K12 representatives, but the committee vote failed. Some board members said it was inappropriate to hear from K12 as they were not involved in the procurement. Others said they voted no on the advice of Walter Harvey, the school board’s attorney.
“If we weren’t involved in the take-off, I really couldn’t be involved in the landing,” said board member Lubby Navarro. “This did not come through the board, so I trust our superintendent and our cabinet to resolve this.”
She added, “If this is not the platform that serves our students and our community, we need to find a solution right away.”
It is possible that District K12 will give up entirely. Marie Izquierdo, chief academic officer, said district officials had put in place a schedule to continue or end the relationship with the company.
“We have a long weekend ahead of us,” she said.
But Izquierdo warned: the alternative would be to revert to the plan that worked at the start of the pandemic in the spring, when each teacher was using the platform they felt most comfortable on.
However, parents complained that it was too confusing to navigate across multiple platforms. Back then the district could only measure one-time registrations, not permanent attendance – which is supposed to be a feature of My School Online.
The problem, Izquierdo said, is that the school district doesn’t have a unified learning management system like other school districts. For example, Broward County uses a system called Canvas. A call for proposals for a learning management system was launched in January and will not be secured until November or December.
No My school online for grades 6-12
An email was sent to all secondary school teachers on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. asking them to use Microsoft Teams and Zoom until September 11th. The district will then consider whether grades 6 through 12 will be using K12 starting September 14, or staying with Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
Izquierdo said the K12 platform was not “effective” at the national level for grades 6-12.
“I don’t believe everything I’m told right now on the 6-12 side of the house,” she said.
She also recognized issues with the platform for kindergarten through fifth grade, but said K12 had notified the district that those issues only affected Miami-Dade, while other districts across the country had issues in grades 6-12.
In a statement sent via email, K12 said network outages had an impact on the My School online platform.
When asked whether the problems were national or limited to Miami-Dade, a K12 spokesman said in an email, “Yes, we had some sporadic problems with other schools.”
The spokesman said K12 understands the district’s decision to stop using My School Online for grades 6-12 and is working with the district “to strengthen the system and facilitate a smooth transition through the K12 platform” .
“Teachers can choose the platform that best suits the needs of their classroom,” wrote the speaker. “Whether this is the K12 platform or an alternative, while the system is being strengthened, we are working closely with our partners to ensure that students have an ongoing option for their education.”
The company also confirmed it has pledged to donate $ 100 for every teacher who sets up their virtual classrooms through Sunday evening through the Foundation of New Education Initiatives, a nonprofit Carvalho chair.
Board chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman, who is also the foundation’s vice-chairperson, asked if qualified teachers would still receive this money if the district decides to part ways with K12.
“Regardless of the steps taken … the commitment to teachers must be fulfilled,” said Carvalho.
On Wednesday teachers and students could register and stay better. Some schools and teachers have abandoned the platform and turned to Zoom, others have not, resulting in an uneven learning experience. School board attorney Harvey raised the equity issue.
Izquierdo said that at 8:38 a.m., there were 35,000 students in the class through K12 and 100,000 students had enrolled. At 8:50 am, 80,000 students were online and 170,000 students were registered on the K12 platform. These numbers don’t include the students and teachers at Zoom with Microsoft Teams.
The Miami-Dade Schools have approximately 275,000 students and nearly 20,000 teachers.
12 cyberattacks on MDCPS Wednesday
District officials said those filings were from 8:19 am to 10:59 am on Wednesday despite 12 cyberattacks, and more attacks continued throughout the day.
District officials have determined that the cyber attackers did not request a ransom, and some of the attacks came from outside the United States
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has requested a briefing from the Department of Homeland Security on cybersecurity in relation to school districts.
“It now appears that hostile actors, including foreign cyber criminals, are now targeting online classrooms to further disrupt the lives of Americans,” he said in a statement sent via email.
Miami-Dade Schools police chief Edwin Lopez said his officers were trying to link the digital addresses to physical addresses in the United States so federal agents can find the hackers.
Lopez did not say which countries the foreign hackers are supposed to come from. He also said detectives are unsure whether the attacks were coordinated. It seems that the hackers are only trying to disrupt the system and not profit from the attacks.
Doug Levin, cybersecurity expert and president of EdTech Strategies, said the publicly released details of the incident indicate that it is a typical DDoS attack – a distributed denial of service – that floods computer servers with “junk traffic” legitimacy is preventing users from logging in.
Based on previous DDoS attacks on schools, if the instigator does not seek financial gain, the individuals are more likely to have a connection with the school district.
The fact that some of the attacks appear to be from overseas could mean that the servers blocking the school system are based there – not necessarily the instigator.
Comcast, the Miami-Dade server provider, released the following statement on Wednesday:
“Miami’s Dade County public schools today reported that cyber attacks continued to affect them. While we work hand in hand with the school district on this matter and continue to monitor this around the clock, the security measures we have provided are helping to mitigate the effects of these ongoing attacks. “
The Miami Herald staff, Charles Rabin, Rob Wile, and Jay Weaver, contributed to this report.