Shortly after classes resumed at Westdale Secondary School in September, teachers offering online classes began experiencing what at first seemed like a normal problem to have — they couldn’t connect to the school’s Wi-Fi.
For weeks, Westdale’s teachers would tune in and out of classrooms intermittently, appearing in the virtual classrooms each afternoon briefly before disappearing altogether.
The unusual technical difficulties, initially presumed to be a standard connectivity problem inside the school, proved to be something more sinister.
Westdale’s network had been the target of a cyberattack, the school said last week.
Nearly every weekday, beginning around noon, when high school students across Hamilton’s public board are expected to join online classes, Westdale’s Wi-Fi would suddenly disconnect — only to reconnect around 3 p.m., when classes are typically scheduled to end.
The problem has been a major source of frustration for families at Westdale who say their children have missed out on weeks of important schooling due to the attacks.
In an email to families last week, Westdale administrators apologized to parents who’d expressed frustration with the continued problems.
“We have been experiencing malicious internet traffic that has resulted in outages daily,” the school wrote.
The cyberattacks throw another wrench into the complex process of offering virtual education to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Already, parents across the board have voiced concerns about their children’s online learning due to technical difficulties in the classrooms and difficulty communicating with teachers remotely.
Last week, the board announced that remote-learning classrooms will grow by an additional 300 students early in November.
In an email to The Spectator, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board spokesperson Shawn McKillop said Westdale has now solved the Wi-Fi problems and located the source of the cyberattacks.
The school has also received “additional protection” from its internet provider, Rogers Communications, McKillop said.
Westdale is the only school in the HWDSB to have reported a cyberattack to date.
The board has not revealed the source of the attacks.
Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator