LA school district seeks millions from Apple over iPad software woes

This is the latest chapter in the dramatic and complex project of supplying all Los Angeles public school students with an iPad

The Los Angeles Unified School District is seeking a multimillion dollar refund from Apple over a failed project to provide 650,000 students with iPads they could use at home.

LA Unified approached Apple in 2013 about using its tablets as part of an ambitious project to provide every student, teacher and administrator in the U.S.'s second-largest school district with an iPad.

The initiative, then known as the Common Core Technology Project, would cost around US$1.3 billion, the school district said at the time, with half that figure going to Apple and the remainder being used to build out wireless networks at the schools.

Apple hired Pearson Education as a subcontractor to develop software for the iPads, but according to a letter the school district sent to Apple this week, a "vast majority" of the student have been unable to use the software.

"While Apple and Pearson promised a state-of-the-art technological solution for ITI implementation, they have yet to deliver it," LA Unified attorney David Holmquist said in the letter. ITI refers to the project's new name, the Instructional Technology Initiative.

The school district will not accept or pay Apple for any future iPad shipments that run Pearson programs, the letter said.

Apple and Pearson have held "numerous meetings" about the problems but "few improvements have been made," the letter says. The school district has asked to meet with Apple next week to discuss how to sever ties with Pearson and recoup funds it spent on unused software licenses.

LA Unified is "extremely dissatisfied" with Pearson's work, the letter adds.

In a statement on its website, Pearson said the project was a "large-scale implementation of new technologies and there have been challenges with the initial adoption, but we stand by the quality of our performance."

Apple didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

LA Unified is said to be considering suing Apple and Pearson over the buggy software. Million of dollars could be at stake, Holmquist told the Los Angeles Times.

It's the latest development in LA Unified's effort to outfit all of its students with iPads. The project stumbled soon after it was rolled out in fall 2013, when a week after receiving iPads, 300 high school students circumvented the security features that restricted their Internet use.

John Deasy, the former superintendent of LA Unified who spearheaded the project, resigned last October over a variety of issues including questions about the bidding process. Deasy had met with Apple and Pearson executives a year before the companies won the contract.

U.S. law enforcement is investigating the project. Last December, the school district turned over 20 boxes of documents to the FBI in response to a federal grand jury subpoena. The day after the FBI's visit, the school district suspended its contract with Apple and Pearson, but denied the move was tied to the federal probe.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'

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