Computer Glitch Has 4,000 Prince George's Students Out of Classroom for 2nd Day

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

About 4,000 Prince George's County high school students remained out of class for a second day Tuesday, many stranded in school gyms and auditoriums, as ongoing problems with the school district's computer system left them waiting for class schedules that never arrived.

Tanzi West Barbour, the school system's spokeswoman, said administrators had resolved the problem for about half the 8,000 students whose schedules were incomplete Monday, the first day of school. There are 41,000 high school students in the county.

Barbour attributed the difficulties to the new computer system, known as SchoolMax, but said late registrations and absences also contributed. She said the rest of the students would be in class Wednesday.

"We have staff working through the night," she said. "We are working as fast as we possibly can to correct the scheduling issues that happened on Monday. Our first priority is to have kids at school. Anything that stops us from doing that is a major concern."

Students stuck in limbo and their parents grew angrier yesterday as the first days of school were squandered.

"They were parked in the auditorium all day today," said Dawn Nakroshis, mother of a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. "The most notable portion of my daughter's day was her nap. I don't know who's more distressed, her or me."

The root of the problem is SchoolMax, a $4.1 million computer system designed to give parents better access to information about their children's performance and ease the tracking of student academic records. Since its introduction last year, SchoolMax has been riddled with bugs, and on Tuesday students and parents reported that the program was often running very slowly or crashing.

Administrators said the glitch mainly affected students enrolled in upper-level or special classes, but students reported that many freshmen were affected as well.

On a Facebook group with more than 3,700 members formed to exchange complaints about SchoolMax, students from several schools posted gripes and estimates of the number without schedules, along with photos of crowded gyms and auditoriums.

The number of students out of class declined yesterday as school officials worked through each case, but it was a painstaking process. Nakroshis said she had heard that it took 10 to 45 minutes to set each student's schedule.

Barbour said students would be in classes tomorrow whether they had schedules or not. "All children are going to be in a classroom tomorrow," she said.

But two days are already gone.

"A lot of people had nothing to do, really," said Michael Xue, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt, where at least 300 of the school's 2,700 students were still waiting for schedules yesterday. "They were either listening to music, talking to friends or sleeping. . . . I feel like I deserve better than this."

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