DCPS students face immediate technical difficulties as the new school year begins

Madison Dias

On August 31, the first day of school for DCPS, around 3,000 calls were made by parents to the DCPS tech support department hotline. These calls concerned technological issues occurring with students’ devices and school platforms malfunctioning.

Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said that the majority of requests made on the phone line had to do with passwords. Additionally, according to a DCPS teacher, “computers distributed before this summer are in need of an update in order to function properly.”

Anticipating the calls for help, DCPS “partnered with OCTO to offer troubleshooting tips at BackToSchool.dc.gov and also set up a tech help desk hotline at 202-442-5885 [available 24/7],” a DCPS spokesperson said. The tech support website contains password help and other frequently asked questions, aimed at assisting parents through online learning. In a recent news conference, Mayor Bowser said that the school system was looking into establishing a second line due to the astonishing amount of calls being made. 

An email written by Ferebee on August 13 included that “DCPS is investing nearly $17 million in technology for learning at home this fall” and they are committed to providing a device for any student who is in need of one. “DCPS is growing its inventory to more than 45,000 devices for students in grades PK-12,” Ferebee continued in the email. 

Ferebee said school leaders are still trying to reach out to families in need. Though there are enough devices to go to each child, there are still technology distribution issues occurring.  One of the biggest issues with distribution has to do with people who don’t have a device having no way of getting messages telling them of available devices. Also, DCPS claims they are not distributing past September 4, putting a deadline on those who still are in need of a device.

In preparation for online learning, a DCPS spokesperson confirmed that the district currently has 45,000 devices with many being pre-equipped with high-speed internet. After a recent nationwide study, it was found that over 20,000 students in the DC area are unable to access high-speed internet (futureready.org). Deputy Mayor Kihn said the DC government has designated more than $3 million to pay broadband/cable bills for high-need families—an initiative that is in the process of launching, however, one not many are aware of.

The data from a recent DCPS tech survey taken by 32,500 out of 52,000 total DCPS students indicated that 60 percent of students needed a device, such as a laptop, at home. Furthermore, 27 percent did not have reliable internet. Though DCPS has committed to providing devices and internet access to all, there are still many difficulties with reaching out to every family hence there being many families without devices at the moment. 

A junior at Wilson, Owen Crouch, explains his difficulties with Microsoft Teams, “it wouldn’t let me in the meeting or open the chat. Frankly, it wouldn’t let me do anything.” When asked if he had phoned the hotline, Owen responded with, “No, I didn’t even know there was one.” 

A senior at Wilson, Isaiah Watson, also experienced difficulties, “Teams kept crashing and the laptop they gave me didn’t work.” Watson said that when attempting to join his first period, “as soon as [I was let in], the audio and visuals were lagging and crashed within the first thirty seconds. This happened so frequently to the point where I stopped [using] the laptop altogether and used my phone to join meetings and complete assignments.” As of right now, Watson is still unable to use the recently issued DCPS laptop and is dependent upon his phone for online learning. 

According to a parent, DCPS laptops block Youtube, not allowing teachers to use Youtube videos for assignments or lectures. In order for the video to process, the teachers have to send the videos they want the kids to watch to a tech person and those specific videos could then be let through the firewall. 

Although students are being supported by DCPS, teachers are supported independently by their school meaning schools are having to fund and provide technology to teachers themselves. Many teachers are relying on personal devices because their school cannot provide a reliable device. There is no mention by DCPS of conducting a comprehensive survey or needs assessment of teacher technology for distance learning. Additionally, there are no plans to fund or support technology for teachers.  

Frustrations were felt among parents with schools who did not get technology distributed until last minute, unable to reach a person when calling IT support, and those who were told to drive back to school to access DCPS WiFi to download necessary apps. Additionally, many parents were unaware about the DCPS technology survey and the distribution of technology.

Education Forward DC, a nonprofit helping to manage the DC Education Equity Fund, raised $2 million for student technology in the spring, distributing around half of it directly to public and charter schools. It has reserved $600,000 to help fill gaps that may emerge after the school year begins. By August 31, the DC school system had delivered technology devices to 18,900 students, schools’ spokesman Shayne Wells said. 


If you are in need of a device, please take this survey- Bit.ly/DCPSTechAccess. If you need more information on the online process this year, visit dcpsreopenstrong.com.