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LA Unified police say $8 million needed to keep iPad-toting students safe

File: A student uses an iPad at a school desk.
File: A student uses an iPad at a school desk.
Photo by Lexie Flickinger/Brad Flickinger via Flickr Creative Commons

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Los Angeles Unified school police say 80 new officers are needed to provide "safe passage" for students walking home from school with $500 iPads.

Safety concerns thwarted plans for students to take home tablets when 47 schools piloted the program last fall, but school officials say they have addressed the issues and plan to send students home with their iPads from select campuses in the next couple of weeks.

To prevent thefts, L.A. Unified iPads are tracked for recovery and are rendered unusable when reported stolen, making it difficult for the tablets to be resold.

Nonetheless, the idea of students walking between home and school with the costly devices has worried families.

"Parents are concerned it could be a target for criminals mugging the children, and taking the iPads away," said Scott Folsom, a PTA representative. 

Folsom recommended the district run an ad campaign showing the iPads are made worthless when stolen to dissuade criminals.

The iPads are part of the district's $1 billion project to put technology in the hands of every student. The program was championed by former Superintendent John Deasy and its future is uncertain given his recent departure.

School police piloted a "safe passage" patrol with 60 students in June and May. Deputy Chief Jose Santome said it would take another 80 police officers to sustain the program.

“Maybe the solution is getting local law enforcement to participate more,” Santome told KPCC Friday.

Santome said he's crunching crime data and assigning more officers to schools piloting tablet take-home in November, as well as calling on local police. He declined to say how many officers would be present.

The officers would not follow students to and from their homes, but rather would be visible on streets and at corners as students walk from school. Officials did not provide details on how many blocks from campuses the security would be available.

Each new officer costs local police forces an average of $116,500 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. School police saw a budget bump of less than $1 million this year, far short of the $8 million needed for the safe passage patrol. 

The school board would have to approve changes to the budget if more police were brought on.

L.A. Unified requires a parent signature before students can take the tablets home, and students accessing inappropriate websites will be blocked even when browsing off campus. 

Teachers have instructed students on safe and respectful Internet use. Schools will not be allowed to assign homework on iPads requiring Internet as  some students do not have online access.