For two years, the parent-teacher association at River Glen School in
San Jose, Calif., scraped together donated dollars and grant money to
buy technology for every classroom, hoping to close the gap between rich
and poor students. Then, in one night, burglars walked away with half
of what they had worked for.
"We had come so far," said Michele Bertolone, who leads the parent
fundraising committee and is the parent of a fourth-grader. "The
community was excited ... and the students were getting in a groove."
Last weekend, someone took two lockable security carts from the
computer lab, police said. One held 30 laptops. The other held 30 iPads.
Nothing has been recovered.
Such break-ins are becoming an issue
at the small but growing number of schools across the USA that are
bringing more technology into the classrooms. As much-sought-after, and
often pricey, tablets and laptops are landing in these young hands, used
in a growing number of classrooms, thieves have begun to target schools
and students in these communities. Most victimized schools have been
like Agua Caliente Elementary in Cathedral City, Calif., which lost a
few tablets before security forced burglars to flee. Others, like John
B. Drake Elementary School in Chicago, have lost hundreds of iPads in a
Sometimes the burglars are caught, but that doesn't guarantee that
the loot is recovered. In May, more than 80 iPads were stolen from the
library in Mansfield High School in Louisiana. After tablet-tracking
programs failed, local police used DNA evidence - blood found on a
broken window - to catch a suspect Tuesday. But the search for the
tablets continues, said Mansfield Police Chief Gary Hobbs.
and administrators are so excited about the tech that it's very easy to
overlook the security implications until it's too late," said Ken
Trump, a school safety expert in Cleveland who has consulted with
campuses in every state. "It's not just an issue of protecting the
devices in the school itself. It's also an issue, even more importantly,
of protecting the children coming to and from school."
As districts across the country begin to catch on to this tech trend -
Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the nation,
plans to provide iPads for all 640,000 students by 2014 - safety
experts say the vulnerability must be addressed.
Although only a
few ambitious districts - including the Coachella Valley Unified School
District in California and the McAllen Independent School District in
Texas - are issuing iPads to every student, many districts are piloting
tablets or similar devices in a few classrooms, grades or schools.
thieves once targeted computer labs, Trump said, but it is now much
easier and more profitable to steal class-sets of tablets than a room
full of outdated PCs. Although many districts have invested in security
carts - steel vaults that can be rolled between classrooms - not all
schools have gone to the same length to protect technology in student
hands. Many districts allow students to take home school-issued devices,
creating an opportunity for thieves. Generally, it is big news when a
school issues tablets to students; that coverage alerts criminals, who
sometimes target students for their tablets, especially when school
uniforms make them easy to identify.
This risk can be
minimized through tracking software and generic carrying cases like a
standard backpack, but the best defense is teaching students to keep the
devices to themselves, Trump said.
"The first step needs to be having a candid conversation with the user -
the student - who has a great deal of naiveté," Trump said. "Most kids
don't think that if they whip out an iPad on the walk home, they may
have made themselves a target to anybody on that street corner."
That's exactly what happened in the Cleveland Heights-University
Heights School District, which serves about 6,000 students in
northeastern Ohio. The district issued 1,300 iPads to its middle school
students last fall.
At first, the tablets were a triumph for the
district, "shouted from the rooftops" in celebration, said district
spokeswoman Angee Shaker. Nobody considered this might attract robbers,
who saw middle school students as easy targets.
Less than a week
after the tablets were handed out, more than a dozen students had been
mugged on the way home from school. The thieves had learned to
deactivate a tracking software on the tablets, so they stole iPads
exclusively, Shaker said.
"The students were preyed upon. They were absolutely targeted," Shaker said. "It took us by surprise, but now we know."
Less than a month after introducing the iPads, the Ohio school
district stopped letting students take them home. The district has
remained this way for a year. Students still use their devices in class
every day, but they can't use them at home, which was half the point of
issuing the iPads in the first place.
Since the muggings in
Cleveland Heights, other school districts have learned to harden
security so students can take their tablets home without fear, said
Darryl Adams, superintendent of the Coachella Valley Unified, a rural
school district in the deserts of southern California.
This year, Coachella Valley Unified will issue an iPad to each of its 19,000 students.
new tablets are equipped with a security system that can only be
removed by Apple itself, Adams said. These tablets will shut down unless
they "check in" with the school district network every time they
connect to the Internet.
"So if these iPads are lost or stolen, they become a paperweight basically," Adams said.