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Remote Learning Problems During Coronavirus Prompt Resignation of Big District Tech Leader

The head of technology for Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the nation's largest school districts, has resigned after more than two decades, following intense criticism of the district's remote learning rollout during coronavirus school closures.

Maribeth Luftglass served as assistant superintendent of information technology for the district since 1999. The week of April 20, district superintendent Scott Brabrand told staff that Luftglass had resigned, according to the Washington Post.

Luftglass was reached by phone on Thursday, April 23, but said she had no comment on the situation.

In March, during an interview with Education Week about data privacy issues in schools, Luftglass said of remote teaching: "Some of our teachers are more comfortable with this than others. It's not intended to be perfect."

The district plans to name an interim chief technology officer soon and will be starting nationwide search for a permanent replacement, said Lucy Caldwell, a spokesperson for the school district. Marty Smith, the district's chief operating officer, is managing the IT team for now. Caldwell declined to comment on the reason for Luftglass' departure.

The school system shut down buildings on March 13 and began offering remote instruction four weeks later. Almost immediately, students and parents complained of technical glitches, teachers encountered inappropriate conduct from students, and school employees bemoaned the district's inadequate preparation for privacy protocol and technology updates, the Post reported.

District officials and representatives of the technology platform partner Blackboard reportedly differed on who was to blame for the issues. A Blackboard executive said during a recent school board meeting that Fairfax officials had failed to implement necessary features and updates, while Luftglass said the company hadn't informed her team of those requirements.

The district subsequently canceled "digital face-to-face instruction" and hired an independent law firm to review the issues, according to the Post. Students will no longer use the Blackboard 24-7 Learn platform for synchronous instruction. Instead, they'll use the meeting tools Blackboard Collaborate and Google Meet, according to Caldwell.

"Our teachers have been and will continue to engage our students with creative, interactive, and successful asynchronous lessons and assignments at every grade level using a variety of other resources such as learning packets, pre-recorded videos and Google Classroom," Caldwell said.

Teachers have begun successfully offering synchronous face-to-face class sessions, Caldwell said on May 6. "Our school based technology staff are working very closely with teachers at their schools to make sure everyone has the information and the tools they need to help things go smoothly," she said. 

Remote teaching has been a challenge for schools across the country during the shutdowns caused by COVID-19. Many districts weren't prepared to deliver instruction remotely, and many families nationwide lack access to Wi-Fi and digital devices necessary to complete online work.

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