Md. Students Miss 3rd Day of Classes as Officials Try to Fix Scheduling Errors

By Nelson Hernandez and Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thousands of Prince George's County high school students missed a third day of classes Wednesday, and school officials said it could take more than a week to sort out the chaos caused by a computerized class-scheduling system.

Students were placed in gyms, auditoriums, cafeterias, libraries and classes they didn't want or need at high schools across the county as their parents' fury over the logistical nightmare rose.

"The school year comes up the same time every year," said Carolyn Oliver, the mother of a 16-year-old senior who spent Wednesday in the senior lounge at Bowie High School. "When I heard they didn't have schedules, I was like, 'What have they been doing all summer?' "

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said that some schools didn't realize there was a problem with schedules until school started and that the trouble was exacerbated by difficulties with SchoolMax, a $4.1 million computer system introduced last school year. He said the system was patched Tuesday night so that school officials could work more quickly and that newly trained schedulers were being deployed to high schools.

"We're working to resolve it," Hite said. "We appreciate the patience of the parents. We know this is difficult."

When school opened Monday, about 8,000 high school students had no class schedules and were sent to wait in holding spaces while administrators tried to sort things out. By Tuesday evening, that number was down to 4,000.

On Wednesday, on the orders of central office administrators who wanted to break up the large groups of students, some schools put students into classes almost at random, said staff members, parents and students.

"We do not have the luxury of holding students in a gym for the day until the schedules are worked out, so administratively we came up with a decision to give these 'mock' schedules until legitimate schedules can be produced," according to an internal memo from one high school obtained by The Washington Post.

Hite said that many students' schedules were still flawed but that it was necessary to put as many students as possible in classrooms. "After yesterday, all kids were either going into a temporary class or their core class," he said. "We don't have many schools now where there are large groups of kids congregated."

SchoolMax is supported by Harris Computer Systems, based in Canada. It has 76 clients, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school system in the United States, where it is used for 300,000 middle and high school students. Telephone messages left Wednesday afternoon with a Harris executive in charge of the company's school division were not returned.

As of noon Wednesday, 3,400 of the school district's 41,000 high school students had no class schedules, officials said. Some of those who had received them found errors.

My daughter "selected a sewing class because she is interested in fashion design, but the school selected a basic piano class," Gabrielle Clemons, mother of a junior at Parkdale High School in Riverdale, wrote in an e-mail. Clemons's daughter also chose a business-career class but was assigned to a human sexuality and family life class, a course she had taken in ninth grade, Clemons wrote.

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