By Howard Blume, L.A. Times | http://lat.ms/17rJppZ
The middle schools still want the tablets, but only after L.A. Unified addresses questions about hacking and responsibility if a tablet is lost or broken.
10:01 PM PDT, October 14, 2013 :: Four Los Angeles schools, scheduled to receive iPads in this first rollout of the tablets, have pulled out of the initial phase, saying that they want to wait at least until security and other issues are resolved.
The rejection apparently is temporary — the schools still want the tablet computers — but their stance underscores ongoing problems faced by the L.A. Unified School District as it attempts to provide every student with a tablet over the next year.
Separately, a state legislator is calling for an oversight hearing to review the $1-billion project, which is funded by school-construction bonds.
Opting out of the early start are Palms and Webster middle schools on the Westside, Muir Middle School in Vermont-Slauson and Revere Middle School in Pacific Palisades.
"The principals are very excited about their future deployments," said district spokeswoman Shannon Haber. But, she said, "they wanted to wait until the minor security issues and parental issues are ironed out."
At Revere, Haber added, the principal also reported additional, unspecified "technical glitches" that needed to be resolved.
The principals declined to be interviewed.
Some notable problems have emerged, including incidents at three high schools where more than 300 students deleted security filters and browsed unauthorized websites. That problem resulted in the tablets being turned in by all students at those three campuses; at others, the devices are being used only at school. There also has been confusion over such issues as whether parents are liable for the iPads if they are lost or broken.
At Muir, the equipment is on campus and locked up securely, awaiting distribution. Interim Principal Jose Gonzalez decided to hold off because he worried about lost instructional time if students had to check out iPads and return them every day, said Veronica Melvin, head of L.A.'s Promise, the nonprofit that oversees the school.
The hope is that the district will resolve security issues soon so students can carry the devices to and from class and school, Melvin said.
The tablets are meant to be the conduit for curriculum tied to new state learning goals. The devices also are expected to be used for new state tests. Overall, senior district officials have said the tablet initiative is going well and that start-up glitches were inevitable.
The schedule for handing out iPads, however, has been slipping, falling back nearly a month in some cases. The first phase was intended to provide the tablets to students at 47 schools.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy had planned to move ahead quickly with a districtwide rollout. A committee that oversees school bond spending was expected to vote on his proposal this month, followed by the Board of Education in November.
That timetable has also shifted back a month. One problem is that the district has not completed a full financial analysis, said Thomas Rubin, consultant to the bond oversight committee.
"We're talking about a financial plan that shows a fair degree of details about how the entire program will be paid for," Rubin said. The committee wants more specifics on spending and funding sources for more than 600,000 tablets, software, training, curriculum, wireless Internet upgrades on campuses and more, he said.
"We want to make sure we believe this is a legal use of bond money," Rubin said.
The committee also wants to see the strategy for replacing the $678 iPads, which come with a limited three-year warranty.
A delay might be the best scenario, school board member Bennett Kayser said.
He said it makes no sense to risk spending $1 billion and then learn "that we're actually slowing the kids down by bringing in new technology that may or not be working."
District officials have said that about $500 million will be used to pay for the devices and another $500 million will be needed for other costs, such as upgrading Internet access at campuses.
Another cautionary note was sounded Monday by state Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills), who is seeking a legislative hearing on the iPad project.
"I don't believe the right steps have been taken to ensure proper execution and smooth operation of this project," Hagman said in a letter requesting the hearing. "It is essential that complications are corrected before more devices are distributed."