Credit: Tim Evans | MPR News file

Minneapolis Public Schools will open for in-person instruction as usual Monday, after a week of disruptions from “technical difficulties” and snow.

In an email to families and students, Minneapolis Public Schools described the technical issues as an “encryption event.” 

What is an “encryption event”?

“I don’t have any specifics past that,” a district spokesperson told Sahan Journal.

The problems affected the operability of systems including internet, phones, cameras, badge access, copiers/printers, and building alarms, the district said in its email to Minneapolis families. All of these systems have been restored, or soon will be. Some systems may still be down Monday as the district assesses protective measures.

“To date, our investigation has found no evidence that personal information was compromised as a result of this event,” the district’s email continued. “If it is determined that personal information has been impacted, we will notify those specifically impacted individuals.”

Even so, the district urged family members and students to change passwords for any personal accounts they had accessed on MPS devices, “as a best practice and out of an abundance of caution.” Staff will guide students Monday on how to change their MPS passwords, the district said. The email also detailed steps the district had taken to secure its systems. The district said its IT department and external IT specialists had been working around the clock to address the outages.

A very convenient snowstorm means no missed school days

The “encryption event” resulted in the shutdown of many Minneapolis Public Schools systems for a full week. But due to a fluke of timing, the technical difficulties did not cause any missed instructional days. 

On Monday, schools were closed for Presidents’ Day; Tuesday was also scheduled as a “non-school day” for parent-teacher conferences. Then, because of a predicted snowstorm, Minneapolis Public Schools announced e-learning days for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The technical difficulties did not affect the programs needed for e-learning, like Google Classroom, the district said. (The snowstorm did not ultimately cause as much disruption as predicted, and some suburban districts resumed in-person classes Friday.) 

Still, parents had to rearrange their plans when the district canceled Tuesday’s scheduled parent-teacher conferences and Minneapolis Kids childcare. And the quick transition to e-learning meant not all elementary students had access to the right technology.

“As you know, all devices are currently at Keewaydin, and there are no students who have them at home,” wrote Kristi Ward, the principal at Keewaydin Community School, in a Tuesday email to families. “I do not have an answer for you at this time as to how to get them because the building has been closed today to all staff and the public.”

Since students could not learn on iPads during their “e-learning days,” Keewaydin teachers provided “Bingo boards” for 2nd-through-5th-grade students. These “Bingo boards” listed activities they could do at home corresponding to each subject area. School staff also made themselves available to families by Google Meet, email, and text. 

However, the technical problems complicated teacher communication as well, according to another Keewaydin email from later Tuesday. “Some teachers have been locked out of the systems as well, therefore, until this is corrected you may or may not be hearing from your child’s teacher,” this note suggested. The email was sent by the school secretary on behalf of Principal Ward, who had now been locked out of her email. 

By Wednesday, Ward had access to her email again. “Next week, we will be creating routines for students to have them bring their technology back and forth from school to home,” she wrote.

However, it’s unlikely that Minneapolis Public Schools will have any more e-learning days this year. Under state law, districts can spend up to five days per year for e-learning due to inclement weather. As of Friday, Minneapolis had used all five.

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...