Los Angeles Unified took the first step Tuesday in closing the digital divide with the school board's approval to spend $50 million to provide computer devices to students at nearly four dozen campuses this fall.

The 6-0 vote clears the way for the district to buy tablets, install wireless networks and provide teacher training at 47 schools. Those campuses compose the first phase of a long-range plan to eventually buy tablets for all 600,000-plus students - a $500 million project that officials say is needed for a new nationwide curriculum and statewide testing system rolling out in 2014.

"This technology has created a dynamic learning environment," said Debra McIntyre Sciarrino, principal at the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, where students have been using iPads since the start of this school year.

"This program will really, truly make our students ready for 21st century work and school.

The Facilities Division will put together specifications to put the project out for bid. While officials found themselves referring to the devices as "iPads," and Apple representatives were sitting in the audience, Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino insisted the district is "agnostic" when it comes to which providers might be selected.

The board greenlighted the project despite unanswered questions about whether kids will be able to take the devices home at night, what happens if they get lost or stolen and how they'll be secured over the summer.

Facilities chief Mark Hovatter said the district would insist that vendors provide replacements as part of any contract with the district.


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Because he wanted the other issues resolved first, board member Bennett Kayser abstained from the vote.

The board also heard a detailed presentation from parent Kevin Mottus, who raised concerns about the safety of wireless technology to support the tablets.

"There is no proven, safety level of microwave radiation for children," said Mottus, who asked that the district provide wired connections for tablets. "You're experimenting with the health and safety of children."

District officials said their research showed that exposure in schools was at a safe level.

The high-tech devices are considered essential to the Common Core State Standards, the new curriculum being implemented in 2014 that is designed to emphasize the teaching of critical-thinking skills in every subject. The state Department of Education also is working on a new set of standardized tests that would replace paper-and-pencil exams with those administered by computer.

Of the 47 schools tapped for the project, most are in the South Bay and Central Los Angeles, based on a set of criteria designed to represent a cross-section of the district.

John Lawler, principal of the Arts Entertainment Theater School at Cesar Chavez Academy in San Fernando, expects the rollout of tablets is going to change the learning process at his high school.

"We're going to be able to emphasize learning over knowing," he sad. "A tablet is a tool for learning and creating and is a gateway to education."

Barbara Jones

Los Angeles Daily News

barbara.jones@dailynews.com

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