The FBI moved in and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) moved on after agents raided district headquarters and confiscated boxes of documents about the failed iPads-for-all project.
Federal agents armed with a grand jury subpoena carted away 20 boxes of documents Monday having to do with the purchase of iPads and software in a controversial $1.3-billion program—approved unanimously by the school board in June 2013—that is still being rolled out. The subpoena requires the district to produce documents and get them to a downtown courthouse on Friday morning.
The documents specified in the subpoena include “score sheets; complete notepads, notebooks and binders; reports; contracts; agreements; consent forms; files; notices; agenda; meetings notes and minutes; instructions; accounting records” and more, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The district wants to equip all of its 640,000 students with technology and software to facilitate teaching with new Common Core standards that are being adapted nationwide. It also wants to balance the educational playing field somewhat for low-income students.
The district abruptly halted distribution of the computing devices in August after a disastrous, rollout clouded by questions of impropriety between LAUSD officials and suppliers of goods and services related to the program. Around 109,000 iPads have already been purchased but just 62,000 have the Pearson curriculum for teaching loaded.
The day after the FBI visit, Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced that he was reversing his earlier decision to expand the project to 27 more schools. His predecessor, John Deasy, put the expansion on hold in August just before resigning under fire in October, but Cortines surprisingly revved it back up shortly after being hired to replace him.
The superintendent said he was scrapping the existing contract with Apple to purchase iPads equipped with software by Pearson Education Corporation used to prepare for the new curriculum. Critics say Deasy and his chief lieutenants had improper contacts with Apple and Pearson before and during the contract bidding process. Deasy’s deputy, Jaime Aquino, was an executive at Pearson before joining LAUSD.
Questions were also raised about the legality of using school construction bond funds for the project. Around $500 million of the money was used for the computers and software and $800 million went to wi-fi infrastructure, staff training and other expenses.
Although the Pearson purchases are mothballed, the district is continuing to buy equipment in advance of testing in the spring that will require the technology. The contract will be put back out to bid, Cortines said, but that will delay equipping kids at those 27 schools until Fall 2015.
Problems surfaced immediately in the very limited first-stage of the iPad rollout. Virtual keyboards proved impractical, so $38 million in real keyboards was put on the tab. Kids hacked their way past security barriers to use banned social media—and access websites they legitimately needed for homework. The district belatedly struggled to create a policy for handling lost or broken iPads.
The raid follows an internal investigation by the district’s inspector general and one by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, which did not find any illegalities worth prosecuting.