Epic Fail – School Choice Registration

Opening day of DCSD school choice online registration has been characterized by many as an EPIC FAIL.  Get Schooled Maureen Downey’s note to DeKalb Schools reads, “This is unacceptable. Fix this today.”
DCSD Chief Information Systems Officer, Gary Brantley, and team have been working around the clock.  I recommend giving it a couple days and check back on Monday.  Online registration is open through Feb 27.
The Superintendent released a statement saying,
“As a result of the new online ePortal application integration with Infinite Campus, we are experiencing issues that are typical when we have a high volume of applicants accessing the system simultaneously. In preparation for the implementation of the new software, we have incorporated the following to assist our parents:
• Parent Technical Support Center that is available daily from 8:30 AM
to 7:00 PM EST.
• The Support Center is open with 10 phones lines to address any
parent concerns.
• The contact information for the Parent Technical Support Center is
posted on the website: http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice and
on the ePortal.”

The letter below summarizes the frustrations of parents.
Mr. Jester,
I am writing this morning to ask for your help and to express my deep, yet not surprising, disappointment, that the online registration system for this year’s School Choice program has suffered a series of technical issues in the past few weeks, culminating with the failure to HAVE an online registration process working today – the first day available to register.
The background here, in case you are not familiar with the School Choice operations, is that there is an enrollment period every year in February, followed by a lottery in March or April. Parents who wish to apply for a spot at a school – theme, magnet, charter, etc. – for the following school year are required to sign up for the lottery.
This year, the enrollment period opened on Feb 2 for paper applications. Online applications were to be accepted beginning today, Feb 9. I and many other proactive parents tried to use ePortal, the existing lottery registration program, to get their students ‘ set up’ in the system, so that today, they could complete the online application – this was the process in previous years and worked when I did it for my older student. However, ePortal only gave a vague error message informing them that their account did not have the authority to add students. When I called the School Choice office to follow up, I was told that this message was due to the fact that ePortal was offline until today, the start of the lottery program, but that I would be able to enter the information and enroll my student starting on the 9th. At no point was there any mention of a change in technology.
Today, we learn that Dekalb is implementing a NEW system for online enrollment. However, there is NO new system available, NO information on what the system is, and NO information about whether it will be available for the lottery. The only information provided is the PDF – when calling the listed numbers, there is NO human being to answer, the messages at the numbers are different and conflicting, and there is no way to leave a voicemail. (Read the PDF at “Parent Technical Support” here http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice.)
This is a tremendous failure in so many ways – once again, parents are given every reason to be suspicious of the competence of DCSD staff. I have 15 years of experience in IT, and it boggles the mind to consider how a system change-over would be 1) implemented at the same time as the system is expected to be available 2) not communicated to any end users beforehand and 3) not working on go-live. Indeed, the lack of communication extends also to the schools themselves, which have been inundated with calls by parents and which were as surprised as the parents to learn that a new system was going to be used (and for which they had no information).
I have called all available numbers for Pat Copeland’s office in School Choice, as well as the numbers listed on the PDF file. Nowhere can I find any instructions for how to proceed other than to come in person to the tech lab in Lawrenceville and dire warnings that anyone who fails to register will not be in the lottery. I have zero confidence in filling out any paper forms and leaving them at the county office – though in the end, inclusion in the lottery whether by paper or online seems to be completely unassured at this point. Again, it is this sort of fiasco that causes parents to completely distrust the work of DCSD employees and degrades our trust in the system overall.
I am requesting your reply with any information available regarding this technology changeover, instructions on entering the lottery electronically, or any other feedback.

26 responses to “Epic Fail – School Choice Registration

  1. While we are questioning the tech-savy DCS, you may want to investigate the Infinite Campus effectiveness. I have heard repeated references to daily errors in schools with their ‘new system’ -Infinite Campus. Many other systems use Infinite Campus without problems. One would think that any problems would be corrected by February! Not in DCS!
    Also, practice GA Milestone testing in schools have met with more frustrating computer problems. If not fixed, students will fail, again! What is going in in DCS? Everything we touch appears to be broken. It would be funny if our students were not paying a high price.
    Please help! Hire Real Computer Experts! The $M are there, just not used for the right reasons.

  2. IT problems … hear hear. I don’t even have access to my own email address – stan_jester@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us

  3. As of this morning, Pat Copeland instructed our principal to tell parents to do paper forms. She acknowledged the online system isn’t working (why can’t parents be told this?) and that there is no timeline for when the problem will be resolved, if at all.
    I would like to point out that paper forms require PERSONAL delivery to the Stone Mountain offices. How many parents are going to be able to do that, INDEED IF they even are told that it’s necessary. At this point, there is still no indication anywhere that there is a problem with the online lottery.
    DCSD should IMMEDIATELY call off the online lottery due to technical difficulty and WIDELY publicize that paper applications are required this year. They should also allow these applications to be turned in to local schools and not require a trek to Stone Mountain so that as many qualified students as possible can be included.

  4. DCS is so far behind the times in using technology…not even funny!
    Even APS has finally figured things out and they are leaving our kids in the dust.
    Treat yourself and visit the @apsupdate Twitter account. This account notifies the community, 24/7, literally! During last years’ snow storm they notified and answered questions for days. Parents knew exactly what was happening with their children.
    Meanwhile, back at @DekalbSchools, nothing! For days – nothing! I often tweeted for them to be of service. Nothing! Asked them to visit the APS Twitter & imitate. Nothing! Now, they tweet Happy News, only happy news, little substance.
    Just checked about online registration…Nothing! Twitter, when used, is very effective & most parents can access it via phone. But, Thurmond & BoE are where? Nowhere! Our teachers? Nowhere? Our kids and their future? Nowhere? We are only as smart and proficient as our Superintendent, who is keeping us down on the farm. Have tried to rattle Lee Mays’ cages about DCS, NOTHING! Is anybody home?
    Mr. Jester is trying, but being a tugboat to right the Titanic must be exhausting! Thanks for trying. Appreciate it!

  5. Michael Thurmond

    On behalf of the DeKalb County School District, I apologize for any inconvenience or delay experienced by parents attempting to utilize our online school choice application process.
    During the first day of registration, yesterday, we experienced a significant increase in choice applications.
    Despite technical problems we were able to process more than 500 online applications.This large volume of traffic combined with the integration of a new online choice system caused some delay and confusion for some parents.
    Today, we processed another 700 online applications by 10 a.m.
    The IT Department and the School Choice Office are working around the clock to resolve the issues that have been reported. In response, we have implemented an enhanced technical assistance and support plan.
    We have already put in place the following to assist our parents:
    • A Parent Support Center is staffed with 10 telephone lines including 678.676.0035 and 678.676.0205.
    • The Support Center is available daily from 8:30a.m. to 7:00p.m. Mon.-Fri. and Sat. 9:00a.m.-1:00p.m.
    • Contact information for the Support Center is posted on the District website (http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice) and on the District ePortal.
    We will continue to provide our parents with updates and support on the District website and social media outlets including @DeKalbSchools for Twitter and Instagram and /DeKalbCountySchoolDistrict for Facebook.

  6. Mr. Thurmond,
    Please use your DCS Twitter to communicate with parents and DC residents – regularly & timely.
    Take a look at @apsupdate and learn how it can be done when parents matter. Twitter will reach parents instantly: bus delays, tech glitches, snow updates, emergency info, all important timely info for parents throughout the day.

  7. School Choice Open Enrollment Applications Counts for February 11, 2015
    Total Online Applications
    02/10/2015 – 447
    02/11/2015 – 1102
    Total Paper Applications
    02/10/2015 – 450
    02/1/2015 – 704
    Parents have both options (paper and online) to complete the application
    process. Open enrollment runs February 2-27, 2015.

  8. i don’t believe pat copeland is a real person. Last year, when we had issues with the kittredge lottery paperwork, she could never quite figure out how to email me back. I will, however, give kudos to dr Thurmond, who was very responsive, able to email me, and who got someone to solve my issues. Someone who was not Pat C. I will believe in the existence of santa and the Easter bunny before I believe in her existence.
    Stan, thanks for all you are doing. I find it quite ironic that your email is not functioning.
    None of our grades in infinite campus have worked since the ‘upgrade’ that occurred over the holiday break. My son has a progress report, but the grades do not reflect what he says are the grades he got in class. He is concerned about this. I have no idea what his in class grades are because he has none that I can see. 6 weeks after the break. My daughter at least HAD grades, but last night they were all gone save for orchestra. Yep, apparently she is only taking orchestra. I actually use this portal to check up on my kids and to be sure their work is turned in. Now I wonder now how accurate the calculations are…. How much did we pay for this and why has it quit working?

  9. Pat Copeland’s employment history with DeKalb Schools
    To date, I’ve never been able to get Infinite Campus working. I’m hoping when the dust settles I can use the hotlines later this month to help me.

  10. This message from Thurmond is just baffling to me, because if you walk into the office on Lawrenceville Highway, they are being very open about saying that the eportal registration system DOES NOT WORK, and not to try it at all until next week. And they will tell you that while you can submit a paper form, if you do, you will not be able to track your child’s progress in the lottery (the woman in charge was openly saying that while you could do what you wanted, if it was her child, she would wait for e-portal to work.) But that they have no idea when the e-portal will be repaired.
    Additionally, the school choice website (not the e-portal, or infinite campus – just the DeKalb informational website that does not allow or require log-in) now has a public message under the parent technical support link that says: “Your application has been processed! The application will be reviewed and the status updated.
    You will be contacted after February 27th if additional information is required.” WHAT? I can imagine someone less technically inclined could read that and misunderstand, and miss the cut off. http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice/
    I have two children who are new to DeKalb, and entering them in the lottery has been a truly bizarre process. I feel like the website should just be the text of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”. In December, I went through the process to get them registered, which required two trips to the office on Mountain Industrial (the first was to bring required paperwork, the second was to explain why my 3 year old doesn’t have previous school transcripts, which is because he is 3 and has not started school yet.)
    Then, I registered for infinite campus, which is required to be able to log-in to e-portal. And my children’s information didn’t show up. I called the office in January, and was told that it wouldn’t show up until it was time to register. But come Feb 2, then Feb 9, it still wasn’t there. I went to Lawrenceville Highway, and they made me put in a “combine students” request through another website, which I was told would take 5 – 7 business days to process. (to their credit, it only took 3 days.)
    But, on top of that, now that all of the info is finally in place, the e-portal isn’t working. There are 6 numbers you can call for support, but all of them give you a different pre-recorded message stating things that I already know, and not giving any kind of technical support. And when you actually drive down there, they’ll just tell you THE SYSTEM IS DOWN, DON’T EVEN TRY. So, why isn’t that being widely publicized?

  11. Pat Copeland makes over $100,000 per year?!? I am so frustrated by the school choice enrollment. I e-mailed Ms. Copeland yesterday asking what she is going to do to fix this problem – no response! Whoever wrote the language in the school choice technical assistance documents to parents obviously did not bother to check to see if real humans were going to be answering questions. Instead, we have to listen to a recorded message saying that it is our responsibility to have all the enrollment paperwork completed in time (if only that was possible in the portal!) and that we need to drive over to Lawrenceville Hwy if we need assistance since ALL the school choice staff is there thru the end of the enrollment period and will not be checking their messages. This is the biggest joke ever!

  12. I have been very frustrated with the eportal system. I didn’t rush out to do a paper application with hopes that the online application would be fixed at some point but at this point I feel that the whole online application is lost cause.
    The new “fix” that they installed over President’s day succeeded in removing my 3rd grader from the the eportal system even though I inputted him into the system LAST year. My 6th grader’s application is still ineligible. His application started off as having only the address error but now his grades have been removed from the system. Any “upgrade” seems to make things worse and worse. When I try to call for assistance, all I get is busy signal.
    If it can’t be fixed , let’s do it old school: put all the names in a hat and pull them out. Just let the parents know! At this point, it feels like all that we parents can do is yell into the wind.

  13. It might be time to abandon the online application ship. Enrollment is over next Friday (2/27). Plan on picking a day between now and then to go up to the central office and do this manually.
    I’ve requested an update and will be up at the central office tomorrow afternoon. I should have some more answers and a more concrete plan at that time.

  14. All four of our kids have been removed from our profile, and it won’t let me into the form to add students. Good times!

  15. Painful and furiating to read what parents are experiencing.
    The technology for this broken process, along with Infinite Campus at our schools…all are broken with little hope for correction.
    It appears that the only things working well in DCS are financial self-serving events, PR machines, $M of legal firms, and downplaying EVERYTHING by our schmoozing Superintendent Thurmond. His ability to maintain the status quo , no matter the problems, and at the slightest sign of having to operate competently and efficiently.
    No wonder everyone who has options runs from DCS as fast as they can.
    Thanks for trying to help parents and teachers in DCS – Stan Jester.

  16. I, and many others I know have been told that if you’ve already started an online application, you cannot submit a paper one. Also, I, and many people seem to have online applications that are showing their children as “ineligible” due to errors with the system. I got through on the phone today, and was told that if your child is registered but showing as “Ineligible” there is nothing to be done. They are going to go in and “clean it all up” between 2/27 and the actual Lottery date. I don’t trust this at all!
    What I’m hearing from different parent groups on closed social media, is hard to argue with… which is that this is far from a fair lottery system at this point, and if a huge change isn’t announced soon DeKalb needs to be bracing for a law suit from enraged parents who don’t feel like their children got a fair shot. I really, really hope that doesn’t happen, we do not need any funds diverted in that way… but it’s hard to argue that this is a fair system, and something needs to be done to reassure people.

  17. Stan – Really? Go down there? That is your answer? Your answer is for us to take a day off of work, drive to Stone Mountain, wait in a long time to talk to a bureaucrat, and then fill out a form that may or may not get properly inputed into the system? Sorry, but that is unacceptable. There are hundreds, if not thousands of parents in this scenario for a magnet program that admits a small fraction of those eligible. Maybe its time to scrap the entire Magnet program thing and start over?

  18. Last week, both of my daughters appeared in the e-portal but my youngest did not appear as a DCSD student. The Bryant center staff told me to wait and check again this week. This week, my youngest has disappeared altogether from the e-portal. I have tired all of the “help” numbers multiple times and they are all either busy, the voicemail is full, or the number is a recording. I do not want to do a paper application because I do not trust that it will be keyed in. I want to personally key in her magnet application so that I can be sure it is done and so that I can track her status online. I guess I’ll visit the Bryant Center one more time, but I have serious doubts that her application is going to make it in.

  19. I went to the Lawrenceville Hwy office today because my daughter’s Application shows numerous “Errors” even though all the information on the Application is correct and not in error. I was told that “everyone is having this problem”, they can’t fix it now, just trust them and they will “clean it all up” between the end of the application period (2/27) and the actual Lottery (April?). I was advised to print out what I had as “proof” that she was Registered although “Ineligible” due to the Errors. Can’t imagine why I don’t trust them.

  20. Hey Tim,
    I hear you. “Go down there” is a TERRIBLE option, but it is currently the only method I know of that is more likely to guarantee registration. This isn’t a reflection of any of the school choice programs, but a failure of the online registration application.
    I sent an email to the administration asking for an update on this. I will go up there myself tomorrow afternoon.
    I’m sincerely sorry to hear the problems and heartaches this has caused.

  21. My student at one of the charters has been removed. I was asked to be patient last week and everything would be fine this week. This is the fourth year in a row for me for EPIC FAIL.

  22. I tried to register a child through HB 251 and through a magnet lottery. My initial effort was last week, after I had made a conscience decision to wait until after the first week so that the “kinks” could be worked out. I was surprised to find that when I tried to update our phone # information it was not saving and my child was declared “ineligible” due to “errors” – no address and some other issues, which were “non-issues” in reality.
    After the system was shut down for maintenance on 2/16, I tried again today. Our phone #s are now in the system correctly, but “errors” persist with “no address”, “GPA invalid”, etc…..despite that I can see all the information needed is there! I do not trust the paper application – and want the ability to see the lottery online and have a record of her application. THANK YOU, Stan Jester for following on this on our behalf!

  23. My second grader has completely disappeared from my profile. My fifth grader is there but is coming up as ineligible. In the process of doing whatever it is they’re doing to “fix” the school choice application, eportal is now broken and I can’t even look at my kids’ grades. Very frustrating.

  24. Just amazing!
    Wait until DCS becomes a Full Choice Charter System!
    If any of you are following the Newark, NJ school system mess…just wait! Just complaining is not going to fix such incompetence!
    Remember, Thurmond’s way of dealing with conflict…deny it, tell share cropper stories, now connecting events to Selma…and go on as usual. Gov. Deal put him in and plans to keep it that way.
    This is as good as it gets.

  25. Just wanted to follow up on my situation. I managed to get through to the support center on Wed. after about 30 minutes of busy signals. I spoke to someone there who assured me that my 6th grader’s “ineligible” application is indeed eligible, which is still worrisome to me.
    She attempted to help me add my 3rd grader who disappeared from the system. It wasn’t successful. She told me that she’d forward my my problem to the IT dept. I was very skeptical but I did get a call from Candace this morning who did indeed get my 3rd grader inputted in the system and his application is eligible.
    On a side note, I’d like to commend both women that I spoke with for being pleasant and as helpful as the system would allow. I’m sure it’s been a rough couple of weeks for them.

  26. I don’t trust any of the options (paper or online); however, I think I’m going to abandon the eportal ship and just do the paper application unless by some miracle I can get thru to a real live person. My child was never added to my account despite repeated requests to do so (I think I’ve requested 3 times so far now). What boggles my mind is that I feel that I’ve done everything I should be doing on my part – got the initial paperwork submitted in December, sent add’l documentation they requested in January, have been diligently trying to use the portal for weeks now, repeatedly e-mailing Ms. Copeland/Thurmond/McMahan and never hearing anything back except from Mr. McMahon. This is a terrible process and the parents and students need answers on how this is going to be rectified.