FBI Seizes 20 Boxes Of Documents Related To Los Angeles School District's $1.3 Billion iPad Program

from the $1.3-billion-is-a-motive-with-a-universal-adapter dept

The FBI is suddenly very interested in the Los Angeles School District's $1.3 billion iPad purchase. Earlier this fall, the LASD board voted to lower retention periods on email to one year, bringing it conveniently back in line with the district's policy, but more to the point, hopefully ensuring that it wouldn't be embarrassed again by emails older than 365 days.
The decision comes less than three weeks after KPCC published two-year-old internal emails that raised questions about whether Superintendent John Deasy's meetings and discussions with Apple and textbook publisher Pearson influenced the school district's historic $500 million technology contract.
What's detailed in these emails appears to be the impetus for the following:
L.A. school district officials turned over 20 boxes of documents Monday in response to a federal grand jury subpoena for documents related to its troubled iPad project, officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

The subpoena asked for documents related to the bidding process as well as to the winning bidders in the $1.3-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and campus administrator.

The contract, approved in June 2013, was with Apple to supply iPads; Pearson provided the curriculum as a subcontractor.
LASD's attempt to put some sort of device in every one of its students' hands has failed miserably. Students cracked the school's proprietary lockdown measures within days of receiving them, loading up the tablets with unapproved software and photos, all the while browsing a now-uncensored web.

The district's tech distribution plan has now ground to a halt. The allegedly crooked superintendent behind the iPad/Pearson partnership has since resigned and only 91,000 of the 650,000 iPads destined for students and teachers have actually been purchased. The district is now giving schools the option of picking up cheaper Chromebooks, which would have been a great idea if only the district hadn't previously spent money purchasing laptops that were pricier than the $768 iPads (which also come bundled with $200 worth of Pearson software -- software found to be mostly useless by evaluators, who noted that only one classroom in the 245 surveyed was actually using it for daily work).

The new superintendent (who inherited former superintendent John Deasy's possibly illegal mess), Ramon Cortines, states that the iPad program is now off the table completely.
The morning after the FBI seized the documents, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he was shelving the contract.

Cortines said his decision was not based on the surprise visit by FBI agents to district headquarters.
Yes, well, maybe not "based" entirely on that, but the FBI's removal of 20 file boxes of documents related to the iPad purchases certainly must have played a small part. Now, we'll have to see what the FBI uncovers as a previous investigation by the LA County district attorney's office found no evidence of wrongdoing -- or at least, nothing wrong enough to result in criminal charges.

While the intention of the tech rollout was good (put devices in the hands of students who couldn't otherwise afford them), everything else about it was wrong, not the least of which was the former superintendent's cozy relationship with the two primary vendors. Nearly useless software tethered to locked down devices ensured that the only beneficiaries of this project were those selling hardware and software. This was $1.3 billion spent with little more to show for it than an open FBI investigation -- hardly the sort of results anyone could call "encouraging."

Filed Under: fbi, ipads, john deasy, lasd, los angeles school disstrict
Companies: apple, pearson


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2014 @ 4:14am

    $768 iPads with cracked screens. Genius!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ottermaton (profile), 4 Dec 2014 @ 4:51am

    Doing it right

    Here's an example of how to do a 1:1 student laptop program correctly.

    I'm sure their policy on locking them down ("Students are given full control of their laptops. They are permitted to install programs and experiment with software.") has quite a bit to do with the program's success.

    Also note that, "[b]y using open source software exclusively, we estimate an initial cost savings of at least $360,000 on licensing fees." contrasted to the billions SPENT by LASD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2014 @ 5:47am

      Re: Doing it right

      Open-source software is great, but its not locked down.

      I'd hate to be the Principal dealing with the angry mother who storms into his office "I caught little Johnny beating the bologna watching goatse on this school provided laptop, I want compensated for emotional distress!"

      Thats why we can't have nice things and why schools pay billions to lock down technology even if it does not work because they can at least respond "Well if little Johnny had not hacked our protection software this would not have happened, if you want to blame anyone blame your hacker son!"

      Even if its a waste of money they will pay for it if it gives them a scapegoat in this lawsuit happy society.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        New Mexico Mark, 4 Dec 2014 @ 6:15am

        Re: Re: Doing it right

        "Open-source software is great, but its not locked down."

        "Software is great, but its not locked down." FTFY

        Anyone who thinks they can put something in someone else's hands and still maintain full control is delusional.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ottermaton (profile), 4 Dec 2014 @ 6:16am

        Re: Re: Doing it right

        Open-source software is great, but its not locked down.

        I'd hate to be the Principal dealing with the angry mother who storms into his office "I caught little Johnny beating the bologna watching goatse on this school provided laptop, I want compensated for emotional distress!"


        You're missing the point.

        First off, Open Source software can be just as "locked down" as any proprietary software if what you're talking about is blocking access to certain sites/services, which you most definitely seem to be. In fact, OSS could be even more locked down (in this regard) because you could take the source code and change it to enable greater blocking/filtering.

        What's actually going on is this school (Penn Manor) has trusted their students enough to give them full control over their laptops. There's an agreement among school-students-parents barring certain behaviors, and if they break that it's on them. No lawsuit possible.

        Secondly, trying to block/filter is a game of whack-a-mole and a total waste of time/money.

        The Appeal to Tradition Fallacy you're selling may be comforting to some, but that doesn't change the fact that it's totally wrong.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2014 @ 6:59am

          Re: Re: Re: Doing it right

          I agree with most everything you say.

          My intention was to point out that so many Schools and even corporations are in this hyper-CYA mode that all logic is thrown out the door.

          I don't think it is an appeal to tradition and fallacy so much as it is some people expecting others to "do something" about all problems. Its like the PTA is filled with Kernel Sanders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMTDQZzQMKk

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John85851 (profile), 4 Dec 2014 @ 7:38am

          Re: Re: Re: Doing it right

          Wait, you're saying it's a better idea to trust the students to behave like adults (by letting them do what they want) and trusting adults not to behave like children (by not threating to sue when Johnny comes across an adult site)?
          This sounds like an interesting experiment.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2014 @ 8:11am

          Re: Re: Re: Doing it right

          "There's an agreement among school-students-parents barring certain behaviors, and if they break that it's on them. "

          Sounds like a potential issue there around the topic of informed consent. How many parents have the technical knowledge to know how their kids might break the rules and attempt to get away with it? How many parents will suddenly find themselves on the wrong end of this agreement because they had no idea when they signed the agreement that little Johnny was well ahead of them and planning to hack the FBI (computer science practical), set up a botnet (computer science experiment), swap naked girlfriend pictures (art class), organize a prostitution ring (business class), set up a few minor drug deals (entrepreneurial practical project) and so on .....

          Somehow I think the risk of lawsuits haven't gone away at all.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 4 Dec 2014 @ 4:52am

    Cortines said his decision was not based on the surprise visit by FBI agents to district headquarters.

    I never understand this. Why would you try to claim it was not at least partially because of an FBI visit. My statement would have been:

    My decision was not entirely based on the surprise visit by FBI agents this morning, but their visit certainly made the decision to put this contract on hold easier and also made me decide to change my pants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 4 Dec 2014 @ 5:43am

      Re:

      If we assume for a moment that the contract was bad, then it's a ploy. Why would an investigation into a contract affect a legitimate contract? This way they can still claim the contract was fine, they just horribly underestimated how the children would use the iPads.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2014 @ 9:07am

    Very confused here

    The FBI intervened in a situation that a) is not an FBI-created terrorist plot, b) shows no indications of freelance (not FBI-supported) terrorism, c) does not threaten to disclose sources&methods, d) does not appear to threaten excessive state surveillance in any way, and e) has at least the appearance of impropriety. What's going on? Why is the FBI doing something legitimate?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2014 @ 11:42am

    By your own information 91,000 X $768 = $70 Million, not $1.3 Billion. Even 650,000 x $768 only equals half a Billion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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