Policy & Law

FBI Steps into L.A. Unified iPad Fiasco

Just three months after the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education halted its massive student iPad deployment and six weeks after John Deasy resigned as superintendent, the FBI has stepped into the mop-up. Agents hauled away 20 cartons of files pertaining to the awarding of contracts in what was to be a $1.3 billion iPad initiative.

In reporting by the Los Angeles Times new Superintendent Ramon Cortines expressed surprise at the Monday afternoon visit. According to the news source, Cortines was awaiting confirmation from the district's general counsel regarding "the nature of the investigation"; but the Times noted that "other sources within the district" confirmed that the focus was on documents related to the iPad rollout. The district was already in the process of doing an internal investigation related to the initial bid process.

The project's bid process had come under fire in August after the L.A. Times reported on a document by a school board member accusing Deasy and then Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Jaime Aquino of communicating with contract winners Apple and Pearson in the years and months before the district officially issued its bid documents. Deasy canceled the contract and announced that the district would issue a new request for proposals related to giving every student a personal computing device.

Aquino left the district shortly before that news broke. His LinkedIn profile currently states that he works as a chief program officer for New Leaders, a national non-profit that helps principals and other educators improve their leadership skills.

Deasy resigned in October, ending, as the Washington Post stated, "a tumultuous tenure that included battles with the teachers union and rifts with the school board."

The district's board of education had unanimously approved the iPad contract in June 2013.

But just weeks before his departure, Deasy had told the L.A. Times that the continued focus on the unending problems with the project —  the largest planned school iPad deployment in the country — had "hampered his effectiveness and eroded his support on the board." "I have thought about whether I have the ability to do what I need to do effectively. I think about it all the time," he was quoted as saying.

Both Deasy and Aquino have denied professional misconduct related to the contract. During the board vote Deasy had recused himself since he owned Apple stock; Aquino, who supervised the bidding process, didn't actually participate in evaluating the proposals.

However, shortly after the iPad contract was canceled, in an apparent bout of retaliation, Deasy sought access to e-mail messages and other files generated by school board members who may have also communicated with any one of numerous technology companies, including Apple and Pearson.

THE Journal will continue monitoring this story as more information is made available.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.