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LA schools iPads: Superintendent Deasy explains Pearson, Apple meetings

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy  speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images

More than a week after new questions arose regarding the bidding process for the 1:1 technology program, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy sent a six-page memo to the school board Tuesday defending his actions and stating that neither he nor his staff violated any rules.

"I am often times asked to meet with current or potential vendors by Board Members – all appropriate in my responsibility to become aware of the best products and services for LAUSD," Deasy wrote.

On Aug. 22, KPCC published internal emails showing discussions between Deasy, other top school district staffers and executives at Pearson and Apple began nearly a year before the companies won the contract to equip every student with a tablet loaded with educational software. He canceled the contract last week and said he will put the project out for bid again.

Deasy has said publicly that the emails and meetings did not concern planning for the district's 1:1 technology program, but, rather, a pilot program. Pearson has said that pilot involved eight classrooms - which was contradicted by email discussions regarding training thousands of teachers.

In Tuesday's memo, Deasy said the emails concerned a different, paid pilot program that never launched. 

"Instead I believed that because we were less than one year away from full implementation of the new state standards and facing a totally new and different state assessment system--one that would require all state assessments to be taken electronically--we should not do any more pilots where some youths would have an advantage over others and instead we should provide content and technology for all of the LAUSD youth," the memo reads.

He said district officials also met with other vendors to explore a pilot.

"Specifically, Amplify was offered an opportunity to also pilot a no-cost trial of their curriculum materials and devices, however, it was determined that their prototype was not ready at that time," he wrote.

In the memo, Deasy said Pearson's software proposal was one of a kind. 

"There has never been an educational digital product that was designed and developed from scratch, not has there been a product that spanned all grade levels for K-12," Deasy wrote.

The memo does not address why the specifications L.A. Unified required from bidders for the project would call for K-12 curriculum if Pearson was the only one offering it - nor why it resemble many of Pearson's other early promises in its sales pitch to school district staff  including the amount of teacher training and the scope of course material to a 9.7 inch screen, the size of the original iPad.

Deasy said he had nothing to do with drafting the request for proposals.

"No one on my staff discussed the RFP process with me," Deasy wrote. "I did not know what the RFP said. I did not know who was on the selection panel. I did not know how the RFP applicants would be judged, nor did I know who applied."

Deasy said Apple and Pearson simply offered the best package.

"Apple submitted the lowest bid and had the highest scores," Deasy wrote.

School board member Monica Ratliff, who chaired a committee probing the purchase, raised concerns in a report released last week that the school district bought the Pearson software while still in development and, more than a year later, many of the courses still aren't ready for students to use. Pearson officials said the software will be finished in November.

"It's hard to understand why the Chair's report consistently refers to the courses not being finished," Deasy wrote, arguing the K-8 math curriculum was approved by the state. 

Pearson submitted PDF lessons to state examiners while the software development was still underway.  The English curriculum has yet to be approved. 

He defended dozens of staff attending a Pearson sales pitch in the desert in 2012, where he said they could offer feedback for the program - and why employees did not report the iPads they received there as gifts on mandatory conflict of interest disclosure forms.

"The iPads were not gifts to the teachers; every teacher signed a statement agreeing that ownership of the device belonged to the district, not the individual teacher," he said.

Deasy did not address why staff members who attended that weekend training – and appeared to have met with Pearson – were allowed to sit on the committees evaluating a bid from the company.

The district's Inspector General reopened his investigation into the purchase last week in light of the revelations in the internal emails.

But, Deasy seemed to want to close the books on the issue with his email.

"I feel that we have lost the discussion about what is best for our children," Deasy wrote. "We only see the adults bickering, and I must say this bothers me. Right now we need to stop this rancor and recommit to doing what is best for the youth of LAUSD."