Los Angeles Unified school district students camped out in auditoriums, cafeterias and libraries on the first day of school Tuesday when a malfunctioning database made it difficult for schools to schedule them for classes.
"Some people were trying to talk to the counselors, but there were just too many people," said Vanessa Hernandez, a senior at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles. "They didn’t want to deal with it.”
Mid-day, Hernandez walked out of the auditorium packed with one hundred students and went home for the day.
Parents lined-up at the front office after school's automated phone system erroneously reported their children as absent.
Tuesday was the first real test for the district's new attendance and grade recording system. Los Angeles Unified officials said it's working at a majority of campuses - and they sent help to struggling schools to get them up and running.
The student information system has been through years of fits and starts.
In 1996, the district agreed to digitize student records in a centralized location accessible by all schools after a lawsuit revealed some student records were lost.
In 2003, the L.A. Unified school board voted to spend $107.2 million for the Integrated Student Information System, according to records kept by the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.
L.A. Unified's Information Technology Division turned to an outside vendor, Constellation Software, for help. But after spending $38.3 million on development, L.A. Unified staff was unsatisfied with the product.
In 2012, Ron Chandler, chief information officer for L.A. Unified, met regularly with principals and teachers to get their thoughts on a new design. He wanted to terminate the contract with Constellation Software, which records show charges the district a maintenance fee of $72,000 per month.
But with all development funds sunk, Chandler had request $13 million more from the school board last year.
The new system launched over the summer and bugs came up immediately.
Gary Garcia, principal of Hamilton High School, said the program often crashed on counselors trying to schedule students, and the connection was often too jammed to get work done ahead of the first day of school.
“We were here Saturday and Sunday and until 9:30 last night, but it’s a slower system," Garcia said. "It gets overwhelmed.”
Garcia said the district sent backup staff to help struggling schools process students Tuesday, and the online program is starting to run more smoothly.
Other teachers and administrators criticized the district for inadequate training and not testing the system well enough in advance of 650,000 students heading back to school.
"The Superintendent has done it again—rolled out technology before it is ready and without input from educators and parents," Suzanne Spurgeon, a spokeswoman for United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a written statement.