By Sean Cavanagh
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have seized records related to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s massive purchase of digital devices, in the latest and most dramatic sign of trouble sweeping over the technology project.
The superintendent of the district, Ramon C. Cortines, revealed that the FBI had taken 20 boxes of evidence from the facilities services division of the LAUSD headquarters.
In a statement released Tuesday, Cortines said the seizure of the boxes was part of an investigation of the “procurement practices involving the Common Core Technology Project,” the official name for the district’s ambitious attempt to provide all of the district’s approximately 640,000 students with iPads.
That effort, which was launched by Cortines’ predecessor, former schools chief John Deasy, represents one of the largest ed-tech purchases by any district in the nation’s history. Its cost has been estimated at $1 billion.
“The L.A. Unified School District will offer its full cooperation to federal authorities during the course of the investigation,” Cortines said in the statement.
A spokeswoman for the district, Lydia L. Ramos, told Education Week that the district had no further comment on what kinds of records the FBI was seeking, or the nature of the .investigation—referring questions to the FBI. She said the superintendent had told the district’s board of education about the FBI’s actions before releasing a statement about the investigation.
The tech project was dogged by problems almost from the start, from technology and security snafus to broader questions about why a curriculum supposed to be pre-loaded into the devices was not ready. The curriculum problems caused confusion in LAUSD schools, as was documented by Education Week’s Benjamin Herold in a detailed report about the district’s tech rollout.
Over the past few months, other controversies followed—including revelations, documented in a district report, that Deasy and a then-top-deputy, had contact with officials from Apple and Pearson in the period before the district awarded the contract. Deasy, who has since resigned, has strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying criticism of him was politically motivated, and that the communications with the companies were routine and not indicative of favoritism.
Cortines said that he is committed to continuing with the next phase of the technology project, called “2B,” which will provide devices to another 27 schools, ideally for the 2015-16 school year.
But beyond that phase, the superintendent intends to review the entire technology project, Ramos said.
“He intends to make [those phase 2B schools] whole, but he does not want a cloud over the process” going forward, Ramos said, explaining the need for a broad review of the iPad project.
So far, the district has spent about $70 million on the iPad technology project, and delivered about 90,000 devices to schools, the spokeswoman said.
Separately, Cortines said the district will move ahead with a different contract with Apple and another vendor, Arey Jones, to provide iPads and Chromebooks for testing associated with the common-core exams, scheduled for this spring. That work will be conducted under ongoing contracts the district has that are independent of the Common Core Technology Project, Ramos said.
The district cannot afford to delay preparing for those tests, designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, she said, because schools and students need to become familiar with the technology to ensure that the exams go smoothly.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.