COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Even though Columbus City Schools spent time and money preparing for an “alternative opening” without teachers, parents described Wednesday’s first day of class on their children’s laptops as “chaos.”

Jaclyn Humphries has four children in elementary school; Larry Dent has one starting middle school and another starting high school. Both said they don’t want their children being penalized for an absence in the absence of teachers.

“They have been sending out a warning saying that, you know, if your kid’s not in it, they’re going to be marked absent, and eventually they will be marked truant, and you will get all these repercussions,” Humphries said.

But when students clicked the Zoom links provided by their respective schools…

“That was chaos,” Humphries said.

“Very chaotic,” Dent said, adding his children couldn’t even get in.

 “Trying to get in and I’m sitting here, I have two students, and nothing’s working,” he said. “So I came to the realization that something’s wrong, and we just abandoned the process for today.”

Humphries did manage to get into the school-wide Zoom meeting, which was led by the principal. She said the 100-plus participants were asked to write their child’s name and grade level in the chat box for attendance.

“But they weren’t really reading the chat,” she said. “So they gave us instructions. They’re like, ‘All right, we’re making these breakout rooms, and then we’re going to send you these breakout rooms,’ and then all of a sudden, ‘No, we’re not going to send you the breakout rooms, they’re not working.’”

“Half the people were getting unmuted,” Humphries described the meeting. “The, the principal could not figure out who was muting and unmuting her and adding people, so she just started knocking people out of the Zoom meeting.”

Humphries said Wednesday’s Zoom meeting ended after attendance was taken.

“I expected them to have subs,” she said. “I, my kids have [Individualized Education Plans]; like, and they’re not getting what they need. If you’re just throwing them onto this little game that does math and reading.”

Attendance numbers for the first day of class won’t be available until at least Thursday, a district spokesperson said. Moving forward, the district said staff will do “check-in meetings” with families throughout the day and record attendance from those.

The spokesperson acknowledged the technical problems with Wednesday’s meetings, urging parents to call the district’s helpline with any more issues at 614-365-8425.

One parent of a district first grader, however, said the day went about as well as it could have.

Parent Nicole Friday said the first Zoom meeting with the principal was filled with questions from parents. She also said it was difficult to keep her 6-year-old son occupied and worried about the long-term impact a strike could have on her students’ long-term growth.

“I definitely think this is very much a short-term solution for the district,” Friday said. “The asynchronous learning is just not ideal for Aiden to progress in his understanding on topics like math and science and reading.”

Also, late Wednesday afternoon, some parents reported issues with attendance reports for their students’ schools, saying their student was marked as having attended when they didn’t.

According to Columbus City Schools, the students were marked present by default until they are manually marked as absent.

“Many schools are still in the process of completing the manual attendance procedures for today, as synchronous check-ins were staggered throughout the day,” a statement posted to the district’s website said. “We do not expect attendance reports to be completed until tomorrow.”

To be marked present Wednesday, a student must have attended one of the Zoom sessions unless they did not have computer access. In that case, if the student is working to get a new device or internet access, their parent must call the attendance line for their school so the student can be marked with an excused absence.

If a parent says their child will not be attending online learning, they will be marked with an unexcused absence.

A district spokesperson said the district helped more than 2,000 students with devices and hotspot needs on Wednesday and will have additional technical support at the meal site locations.