L.A. Schools’ iPad Giveaway Lasts a Week before Students Hack the Computers

Thursday, September 26, 2013
iPad (photo: Reuters)

If Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials were hoping to help educate students about the fine points of computer hacking, the decision to give every kid in the district free iPads at the cost of $1 billion may accomplish that.

Around 300 high schoolers at three of the schools given the first batch of iPads a week ago took them home and wasted little time figuring out how to bypass security measures meant to keep them off of social media and away from restricted websites. Enterprising students deleted their student profiles, freeing their computers from the district network, and alerted their friends that Facebook, Pandora, Twitter and all that good stuff was theirs for the typing.

School officials said the student actions triggered alerts to the district, which then issued a moratorium on taking the tablets home until the problem could be addressed. Students said they resorted to the hacking when filters installed on the computers blocked them from accessing essential websites necessary for their studies. Preliminary examinations indicated some truth to that.

The $30-million Phase One of the giant technology project is supposed to put tablets in the hands of students and faculty at 47 schools by the end of the month. By next year, all 640,000 students, K-12, would have free iPads and software to facilitate their education. The district had indicated that it preferred that students not take the machines home, but left that decision to individual principals.  

The district is spending $500 million in bond money for the computers and another $500 million on wi-fi and incidentals. LAUSD belatedly decided to spend another $38 million on keyboards when the iPad’s virtual keyboard was found to be unsuitable for the rigors of school work.

Ron Chandler, the district's chief information officer, put a positive spin on the hacking snafu—regarding it as a teaching moment—when talking to Barbara Jones at the Los Angeles Daily News. “What this really forces us to do is ramp up the conversation about responsible use and accountability,” he said.

In other words, the kids have been warned that if they get caught again, they won’t get off with just a tongue lashing.

The hacking was discussed at a district technology committee meeting on Wednesday, where an equally troubling issue was raised—one that perhaps every parent who ever bought their child an electronic device has broached: What happens if this thing is lost or damaged?

“It's extremely disconcerting that the parent and student responsibility issue has not been hammered out, and that different parents and students received different information during the rollout,” Board of Education member Monica Ratliff, who chaired the meeting, reportedly said.

At least three different parent information forms were reportedly circulated, but the Spanish form was a computer-generated translation was pretty unintelligible, committee member Linda Perez said.

Some parents apparently signed waivers that they would pay for replacements if an iPad was lost or damaged; others did not. There does not appear to be a uniform policy in place and it might be unreasonable to expect that low-income families will be able to afford replacements and repairs.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

iPad Crackdown after 300 L.A. Students Use School-Issued Tablets for Unauthorized Websites (by Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News)

LA School iPad Security Breached in No Time by Students (by Sasha Bronner, Associated Press)

Who Pays If L.A. Unified Students Lose or Break iPads? (by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Schools Commit to $1 Billion for Free Student iPads—Then Decide to Add Keyboards (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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