The lost iPads [71 of 1,200 = a loss rate of 17%] are from a trial program last year. L.A. Unified officials say security is being tightened and that student hacking is also being addressed.
By Howard Blume, L.A. Times | http://lat.ms/192XCiP
Students work on iPads in April at the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills. (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times)
September 26, 2013, 9:23 p.m. :: Los Angeles school district officials are trying to track down 71 missing iPads — including 69 from one campus — but said Thursday that new security measures are designed to frustrate future thefts.
Officials also acknowledged that student hacking of an iPad security system last week was more widespread than originally reported by the district.
The lost devices are among iPads used last year in a 13-school trial run of the Apple tablets. Since then, the L.A. Unified School District has launched a $1-billion program to equip every student in the nation's second-largest school system with the devices.
Central to the effort are security measures to keep track of the tablets, which cost nearly $700 apiece and were intended to be sent home with students.
The loss of last year's tablets is not an omen of things to come, but rather an experience that has resulted in stronger safeguards, said Lt. Jose Santome of the school district's Police Department.
"We have a very vigorous control for this rollout," Santome said. "We know what's going out and deployed on every campus."
In addition, five of the new iPads — out of about 14,000 so far distributed — disappeared, although one of those was subsequently recovered, Santome said.
The problem last year was most acute at the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills. Administrators distributed about 1,200 iPads there last year. At the end of the year, 69 did not come back.
The district was not able to respond quickly last year for several reasons, Santome said. First, officials needed to sort through storage carts to determine whether any iPads had ended up on the wrong one, for example, or whether two of the devices were placed into a storage slot meant for one. Then the district had to tabulate serial numbers for every computer to determine which ones were missing.
Ultimately, the district was able to link missing iPads to the students to whom they had been assigned. Investigators are in the process of interviewing those students.
But that's unlikely to resolve what happened. If students claim they turned in their device, the district may have no way to prove otherwise, Santome said.
He added that the district has addressed security shortcomings. Global positioning software can now be activated for every tablet. And an electronic inventory system is supposed to register at all times who is currently responsible for a particular iPad. The district also can shut down iPads that are reported as stolen.
Last week's hacking episode involved a different sort of security breach: high school students gaining access to unauthorized websites.
In interviews, students said they had been disappointed at their inability to get to social networking and music streaming sites, and they quickly figured out how to delete safeguards. As a result, students were able to visit any website when they used the tablets off campus.
In response, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has temporarily banned the home use of district iPads.
L.A. Unified knew immediately which students took their iPads out of the filtering system, chief information officer Ronald Chandler said. Officials still are weighing how best to provide sufficient but secure Internet access.
When the hacking came to light Tuesday, the district announced that 185 students had been involved. The current figures are 260 students at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights, 10 students from Angelou Community High School in South Park and 70 at Westchester High.
Early reports indicated that Valley Academy students were also involved, but a district spokeswoman was unable to confirm that Thursday.
A student government representative at Westchester said the district count for his campus still sounded too low. He said administrators reported to students that 160 of their classmates were involved. The student requested anonymity because he was afraid of getting into trouble for having taken part in the unapproved Web access.