LOS ANGELES (TheBlaze/AP) — It took just a week for nearly 300 students who got iPads from their Los Angeles high school to figure out how to alter the security settings so they could surf the Web and access social media sites, prompting district officials to halt a $1 billion program aimed at putting the devices in the hands of every student in the nation's second-largest school system.
Roosevelt High was among the first schools to distribute iPads as part of the Los Angeles Unified School District rollout. Its students initially were allowed to take home the Apple tablets, and they learned they could easily delete their personal profile information, giving them greater access to the iPads' capabilities, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Before students figured out the trick, it seems some didn't see the point of having them.
"You can't do nothing with them," student Kimberly Ramirez told the LA Times. "You just carry them around."
Alan Munoz, another student, told the Times he was only using his iPad during free time -- likely not what program developers had envisioned.
The district has halted home use of the tablets until further notice and put the rollout on hold as officials look for ways to make sure students use the devices for school work only. Its actions come as school officials nationwide grapple with security measures for iPads and other devices as they introduce them to an often highly tech-savvy student population.
Two other LA schools also reported the breaches, though in smaller numbers.
"I'm guessing this is just a sample of what will likely occur on other campuses once this hits Twitter, YouTube or other social media sites explaining to our students how to breach or compromise the security of these devices," School District Police Chief Steven Zipperman wrote in a confidential memo to senior staff obtained by the Times. "I want to prevent a 'runaway train' scenario when we may have the ability to put a hold on the rollout."
A tourist uses his iPad to take photos of a yellow rubber duck created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman at the Summer Palace, once a royal garden in Qing Dynasty(1644 1911), in Beijing Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. Credit: AP
When the technology breaches came to light Tuesday, Superintendent John Deasy ordered a moratorium on allowing tablets to leave campus until the problem has been resolved," the district said in statement.
Roosevelt students began to tinker with the security software on the devices after "they took them home and they can't do anything with them," senior Alfredo Garcia told the Los Angeles Times.
Before long students were on the Internet, sending tweets, socializing on Facebook and streaming music through Pandora, students told the newspaper.
The district said in a statement Wednesday that steps have been taken "to ensure it has 100 percent control over what is accessible" on the devices.
Potential precautions include permanently barring home use of the tablets and strengthening the security software that limits how the devices are used.
Zipperman suggested in the memo to senior staff that the district might want to delay distribution of the iPads.
When the technology breaches came to light Tuesday, Superintendent John Deasy "ordered a moratorium on allowing tablets to leave campus" until the problem has been resolved," the district statement said.
But the iPads being used for everything but their intended purpose is not the issue. According to a follow-up story in the LA Times, there seems to be a lot of confusion about who is responsible for fixing the expensive machines should they break or be lost at the hands of students.
"It's extremely disconcerting that the parent and student responsibility issue has not been hammered out, and that different parents and students received different information during the rollout," Board of Education member Monica Ratliff said at a recent meeting.
Three different forms have circulated with differing information, one asking parents to sign and take on the responsibility. Some are refusing.
"I don't want my child responsible for a $600 device," one parent told the Times. But later, Ratliff said her understanding was that the signature was not legally binding.
And what happens if a parent refuses to sign?
"We have to come back to you with that," Gerardo Loera, head of curriculum and instruction for the school district, said at the same meeting. That poses a problem since part of the goal was to replace physical textbooks with digital copies on the devices.
So far, the consensus seems to be that students and parents will not be responsible. In fact, students are being encouraged not to fight back should someone try to steal the devices from them; the district is relying on tracking software instead.
According to the Times, the $1 billion price tag breaks down to $500 million for the devices and software and $500 million to update schools with wifi capability.