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Amid safety concerns, LAUSD students hauling home iPads



Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Los Angeles School Police Sgt. Dale Cunningham visits Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. The school is the first in the Los Angeles Unified School District that allows students to tote home iPads.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores is assigned to the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences campus every weekday.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Aiden Lafreniere, a junior at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, plays a movie she made on her iPad for her Spanish class.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores is the only officer assigned to the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences. Flores has been located at the school for four years, ever since the campus first opened.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Not a single iPad has turned up missing at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, according to Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
After school gets out, Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores patrols the surrounding area by car. He checks storefronts, alleyways and bus stops to make sure students are safe.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.
Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores patrols through Granada Hills on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2014. Last spring, L.A. school police tested take-home iPads for two weeks with small groups of students at two schools.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills are among the first in Los Angeles Unified School District cleared to tote home their iPads for homework.

Junior Aiden Lafreniere said having a tablet she can take with her makes it easier to stay in touch with teachers, even after hours.

"We have a place we can constantly go and check our instructions," she said. "There isn't that factor of losing work when you turn it in because of massive amounts of paperwork."

But parents and school staff worry that the take-home iPads may come at a cost: children who are targeted by thieves.

Valley Academy is part of a pilot program officials plan to roll out to all schools as the district implements its Common Core Technology Project, which will provide tablets and laptops to all 650,000 students.

So far, 44,000 of the district's 90,000 devices have been distributed to students from summer storage. Nearly all of the equipment stays on campus after hours, locked up in charging carts. 

District officials took more than a year to allow Valley Academy's 1,2000 students to leave campus with their $700 iPads. 

"We had been promised we would be able to take them home," said Valley Academy junior Rachel Scott. "They kept telling us that, but they kept pushing back the date."

School board member Monica Ratliff requested the take-home program be delayed as school police worked out security issues.

Ratliff, who closely follows the district's technology program, issued a 118-page report in August showing the district grappled with a wide range of security issues, among them tracking of stolen devices, parent liability, and the vulnerability of campuses to sweeping thefts of entire tablet supplies.

The district is aggressively working to keep kids away from online predators, blocking almost all social media sites and chat rooms, officials said Monday. 

Gash Teshome, LAUSD coordinator for information security, said each device is equipped with web filtering software to keep students away from porn. A list of inappropriate sites is continuously updated for LAUSD by an outside filtering service. 

"The Internet is a big place. It gets bigger every day. It’s unreasonable for an organization like LAUSD to monitor that,” said Teshome.

Still, some parents are worried.

"Sending stuff like that home seemed dumb from the beginning," said Marc Zev, parent of a senior at Reseda High School.

Last spring, the Los Angeles School Police Department tested take-home iPads for two weeks with small groups of students at two schools. Officers patrolled nearby neighborhoods as students walked home in what was known as "safe passage."

School Police Chief Jose Santome estimated it would take 80 more officers to scale up the patrols to the district's 800 campuses. 

Ratliff called the estimate "troubling" in her report, given that the cost could soar to $8 million annually.

In lieu of more school officers, Sgt. Dale Cunningham said his department is coordinating safe passage programs with local police and teaching students about cyber security and safe practices as they head to and from school.

He said rule number one for students: keep your iPad in your backpack. 

Keeping students safe on the streets

One recent afternoon as classes let out at Valley Academy, school police officer Nick Flores called out to students from his cruiser: "What’s up guys? You guys getting picked up over here?" 

Flores wound his car around the streets of Granada Hills for the better part of an hour after the bell rang. He said with teenagers, it's hard not to have to repeat yourself.

“They were out here, having their iPads out, listening. I’d be like 'Hey! Put that away!" Flores said, delivering a fist bump to a kid nearby, iPad out of sight.

"They see me," said Flores. "Everyone knows I'm out here. Just the presence sends a message."

Not a single iPad has turned up missing at Valley Academy, according to Flores.

School police and the district's Information Technology Division are hoping to dissuade thieves by lowering the street value of stolen iPads. If an LAUSD device is reported missing, it is disabled remotely, making it about as functional as a paper weight, police said.

Officers are in the process of recovering one stolen iPad sold on eBay to a disappointed buyer.

Outside of Valley Academy, LAUSD is having trouble keeping track of the iPads. 

During a recent audit, the district's inspector general could not locate $850,000 worth of iPads that documents showed were at the district's storage warehouse. District officials told the auditors that the devices went out to classrooms, but no record of the transfer was provided.

Students rarely lose iPads, the auditors found. In fact, they discovered an additional 47 student tablets in a sample supply and recommended the district revamp its inventory methods.

Adults appear to have more trouble keeping track of the tablets. Thirty-one percent of the iPads issued to teachers could not be located. Administrators said in some cases teachers left tablets at home and blamed deficient inventory records.

When the iPads went missing, the district's inspector general found only half were reported to school police.

The iPad program has been troubled since its inception. Some students quickly bypassed Web filtering software. Others couldn't log online or even power on the devices.

Earlier this month, the FBI seized district records in a public corruption investigation of the iPad program. The agency's focus is the district's $500 million contract with Apple and Pearson, the publishing company supplying software for many of the devices. 

Last August, KPCC found close ties between former superintendent John Deasy and Apple and Pearson executives, calling into question whether the contract bidding process was fairly implemented. 

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the district will no longer use the contract under investigation, but requested another $22 million in tablets Tuesday under a separate agreement.

The school board approved the request without discussion. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the status of LAUSD's web filtering service. KPCC regrets the error.