Credit: Tim Evans | MPR News file

Minneapolis Public Schools families scrambled their plans Tuesday when the district announced program cancellations due to “technical difficulties.” 

Tuesday was scheduled to be a parent-teacher conference day: a staff workday with no classes for students. But parents learned Monday night through emails and voicemails from the district that parent-teacher conferences would be canceled. So would Minneapolis Kids, the child-care program that serves thousands of students after school and a smaller group on “non-school days” (that is, weekdays during the school year when no classes are held).

“Due to technical difficulties impacting systems throughout the district, Minneapolis Kids is not able to open for childcare tomorrow,” a voicemail message informed parents. A parent who shared that message with Sahan Journal received it at 8:43 p.m. The message continued, “We are very sorry for the late notice and the difficulty this will cause our families. MPS has been working around the clock this long weekend to fix this problem, and have no choice but to make this call.” 

The district’s voicemail added that parents would not be charged for Tuesday’s cancellation.

On certain days throughout the school year when school is not in session, Minneapolis Kids provides child care for kids aged 4 to 12 between 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Parents pay $45-55 per day for the optional service.

Minneapolis Kids served 2,000 students across 23 school sites during the 2018–2019 school year, according to the most recent information available on the district’s website. Eight of those sites run programs on “non-school days.”

A flurry of emails

Many parents took to social media to complain and speculate, questioning why “technical difficulties” would impact child-care services.

A spokesperson for Minneapolis Public Schools told Sahan Journal the district did not have more information to share about the technical difficulties or why they resulted in the closure of Minneapolis Kids.

Parents and educators traded various school communications, in private conversations and over social media, in an effort to figure out what was happening.

How are the Minneapolis Public Schools “technical difficulties” affecting you?

Are you a Minneapolis parent, student, or staff member affected by today’s closures?

What questions would you like us to ask the district?

Do you have any (semi-reliable) information about the “technical difficulties” in Minneapolis Public Schools?

Contact us:

The district sent parents an email shortly before 8 p.m. Monday night, announcing the cancellation of parent-teacher conferences. The conferences would be rescheduled at a later date, the email said. “We are working diligently with third-party IT specialists to investigate the source of this disruption, confirm its impact on our systems, and to restore full functionality to our systems as soon as possible,” the email reported.

An email to Justice Page Middle School parents from Assistant Principal Tara Stevenson clarified that the technical issue meant teachers would not be able to access their online gradebooks or use their classrooms or phones on Tuesday “as the district works to solve this problem.”

A Monday-night email to staff urged them to change their passwords. “To date, our investigation has not confirmed that employee personal information was compromised in any way,” the email said. “If we determine that employee personal information has been impacted, we will let you know as soon as possible. However, as a best practice, and out of an abundance of caution, we suggest you change all passwords for any personal accounts you may have accessed on company machines.”

In an update posted on the district website Tuesday evening, Minneapolis Public Schools said it had been working with third-party IT specialists to investigate the disruption, confirm its impact, and “restore full functionality.”

“The good news is that we are able to restore the impacted data from viable backups that MPS had in place prior to the event,” the district said. “This means that no data will be lost due to this incident.”

The district said it had taken several safety measures: deploying a virus alert system so that staff and students could continue using their district-issued devices safely; updated passwords; and implemented additional multi-factor authentication.

It did not further explain what caused the disruption or how it affected data.

Bracing for the storm

The programming interruptions come at a time when the district has pledged to rebuild trust with families, following a tumultuous year. Last year, Minneapolis Public Schools implemented a controversial redistricting plan, educators held a three-week strike, and the superintendent left the district.

The “technical difficulties” also come as Minneapolis braces for a historic snowstorm this week. Minneapolis Public Schools announced Tuesday afternoon that classes would be held virtually Wednesday through Friday. In a press release, the district clarified that students would still be able to use remote learning technology. “Although MPS is experiencing technical difficulties with some systems, technology that supports e-learning is still accessible, including Google Meet, Google Classroom, SeeSaw, Clever, Teams and Outlook,” the district said.

The Minneapolis school board also canceled a finance committee meeting and a special meeting to discuss the superintendent search process, both scheduled for Tuesday night.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Tara Stevenson’s job title. She is an assistant principal at Justice Page Middle School.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...