Education

Feds won't file charges after investigation of LAUSD iPad program

Brayan Aguilar, 17, and Yadira Aragon, 16, use iPads to read electronic books in a literacy class at Diego Rivera Learning Complex.
Brayan Aguilar, 17, and Yadira Aragon, 16, use iPads to read electronic books in a literacy class at Diego Rivera Learning Complex.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

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Federal investigators have closed their inquiry into the Los Angeles Unified School District's troubled iPad program without charging any of the current or former district officials involved, according to a statement from the head attorney for the school system.

The decision ends a probe that officially opened in 2014 — within months of a KPCC investigation —into L.A. Unified officials' troubled $1.3 billion attempt to supply every student in the nation's second-largest school district with a tablet computer.

"Since then, the District had been fully cooperating with the federal government’s investigation," read the statement from L.A. Unified attorney David Holmquist.

(Related: 'LAUSD iPads: Timeline of a troubled program')

The iPad effort was the brainchild of former L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who saw the marriage of Apple technology and software developed by publishing giant Pearson as a new opportunity for students to learn. In 2013, with officials estimating the effort would cost around $500 million, L.A. school board members gave the program the green light.

But many L.A. residents balked at the program's ballooning cost. For example, original projections did not take into account how much it would cost to equip every school with the wireless internet needed to operate the iPads

The district purchased the iPads using bond dollars, which left some voters, who felt they had been approving bond measures to build new classrooms to relieve overcrowding, feeling misled.

It also became clear the Pearson software pre-loaded on the iPads wasn’t even finished. A KPCC investigation, published in Aug. 2014, revealed Deasy had close communications with Pearson executives before the contract had been awarded, calling into question whether the bidding process for the iPad initiative was fair.

Three months later, KPCC reported that the U.S. Attorney's office opened its own investigation into the iPad initiative, issuing grand jury subpoenas to the district. In Dec. 2014, the FBI seized 20 boxes of documents from L.A. Unified headquarters in connection with the investigation.

The district purchased 124,421 iPads using bond money, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Many of the devices remain in use in L.A. Unified classrooms, said Chief Academic Officer Francis Gipson. But, she added, district teachers are currently using them with very different aims than was envisioned when the district initially purchased the devices.

The district has "reimagined how the tools were used," Gipson said, "so it wasn’t the tool driving the instruction, but how does the tool support the instructional design or the vision for the classroom."

Reporter Annie Gilbertson also contributed to this story. Click here to view a timeline of KPCC's reporting on L.A. Unified's iPad program.