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Website Crashes and Cyberattacks Welcome Students Back to School

In Virginia Beach, when students and teachers tried logging in for their first day of classes on Tuesday, they were blocked by an issue with the cloud-based web filter that the district uses to monitor students’ online activity. Service was restored before noon, according to a district spokeswoman, who said other districts on the East Coast had similar problems with the filter provider.

Aaron Spence, the Virginia Beach superintendent, said technical difficulties should be seen in the context of the unprecedented task facing schools that had to prepare for the option of both online and in-person learning.

“We’ve had to build two school systems from the ground up,” he said — a task that included building out wireless infrastructure for tens of thousands of students, developing a virtual learning system, training 5,500 teachers and providing technical support staff and resources, all within a matter of months.

“We are rising to that challenge,” he said, “but it has been a heavy lift.”

In some districts, that challenge has been compounded by deliberate attacks. Last week, online classes in Miami-Dade County, the nation’s fourth-largest district, were choked by glitches for days. A 16-year-old student at South Miami Senior High School was arrested on Thursday in connection with cyberattacks that contributed to those issues.

In Hartford, the district had spent many weeks preparing for a mix of online and in-person classes. But over the weekend, officials found that cyberattackers had targeted some 200 of the city’s servers with ransomware — including the one that manages school bus routes. The district was forced to delay the first day of school, leaving nearly 18,000 students in limbo.

“We had a very unusual summer with everything we had to do to get ready to go back,” John Fergus, a spokesman for the district, said, adding, “This is not something I thought we’d be dealing with on the first day.”

Ally Fonte said her two sons’ teachers at North Beach Elementary School in Miami-Dade County were able to adjust swiftly to glitches and cyberattacks on the first day of school last week. “They had kind of anticipated technical difficulties,” she said, “just not on this scale.”

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