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Given free iPads, Los Angeles students crack firewall to tweet, play games

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 7:15 p.m.
This Oct. 1, 2013 photo showing Roosevelt High School students Carlos Espinoza and Maria Aguilera talk during an interview in Los Angeles. They were among two of the Los Angeles Unified School District's 650,000 students to receive iPads under a district plan to supply every student and teacher with one of the tablets by next year. Espinoza says he quickly cracked the iPad's security settings and used it to go on Facebook. Aguilera says district officials shouldn't have been surprised that hundreds of high school students would do that. (AP Photo/John Rogers)

LOS ANGELES — Education officials in the nation's second-largest school district are working to reboot a $1 billion plan to put an iPad in the hands of each of their 650,000 students because an embarrassing glitch emerged when the first round of tablets went out.

Instead of solving math problems or doing English homework, as administrators envisioned, more than 300 Los Angeles Unified School District students promptly cracked the security settings and started tweeting, posting to Facebook and playing video games.

That incident and related problems had critics and supporters questioning last week whether district officials were being hasty or overreaching in their attempt to distribute an iPad to every student and teacher at the district's more than 1,000 campuses by next year.

“It doesn't seem like there was much planning that went into this strategy,” said Renee Hobbs, director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island. “That's where the debacle began.”

It's crucial, she said, to spend time drawing students into a discussion on using iPads responsibly before handing them out. And, of course, installing a firewall that can't be easily breached.

At Roosevelt High School, it was the unanimous opinion of more than a dozen students that the school district's security setup was so weak that even the most tech-challenged parent could have gotten past it.

“It was so easy!” freshman Carlos Espinoza said.

He explained that all one needed to do was access the tablet's settings, delete the profile established by the school district and set up an Internet connection. He did it, he said, because he wanted to go on Facebook.

“They kind of should have known this would happen,” said Espinoza's friend Maria Aguilera.

“We're high school students after all. I mean, come on,” she added.

As word spread with the speed of a microprocessor that anyone could crack the firewall, officials quickly confiscated the devices and put a freeze on using them off campus. In the meantime, they promised to improve the security settings.

When they started distributing the iPads at 47 district schools in August, administrators touted the move as a means of leveling the academic playing field in a public school system in which 80 percent of the students come from low-income families.

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