iPad protest

Parents and teachers protest outside the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / November 19, 2013)

More than a dozen Los Angeles teachers on Tuesday staged their first protest of a $1-billion plan to provide iPads to every student and teacher, calling the effort misguided and unsustainable.

About 15 teachers, parents and representatives from the teachers union rallied at the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills, just before a meeting held by Los Angeles Board of Education member Tamar Galatzan where L.A. Unified officials explained and defended the iPad rollout.

Bernadette Lucas, the iPad project director, spoke to a packed auditorium at the high school and said the first phase of the rollout was about learning the best processes for getting the devices to students and teachers.

“At the scale we're operating ... we had to be in a mode of learning,” she said.

The program is designed to support, not replace teacher instruction, she said.

“Nothing is more important than a teacher,” she said. “This isn’t about what’s on the iPad -- it’s about how that teacher uses the iPad to access creativity, innovation, thinking.”

The protest, organized by United Teachers Los Angeles, included protesters eating an iPad-shaped cake and 10 teachers and parents holding up the numerical digits of the $1-billion cost.

A protester dressed up as Marie Antoinette and wearing a sash that read “Tamar Antoinette” urged onlookers to “let them eat iPads” in response to requests by protesters for more librarians and nurses and smaller class sizes.

The reference was intended to question the Los Angeles Unified School District's priorities in spending so much for technology when campuses and students had other needs.

Victoria Casas, a teacher at Beachy Avenue Elementary School and a parent of two children in the district, said the program was unsustainable and that the district should steer money toward lowering class size and training.

“They quickly become obsolete,” she said. “How can we sustain the budget for this -- it’s irresponsible.”

Jehangir Dastur, who teaches first grade at Grand View Boulevard Elementary, said he is particularly upset about the use of facilities bond dollars being used to pay for the devices. His school, he said, is aging poorly and is in desperate need of repairs to student bathrooms and plumbing.

“It is a question of priorities,” Dastur said. “What are the priorities here?”

Galatzan, who was the target of much of the comments by protesters, has been a staunch supporter of the program.

“She has been the least critical supporter of the ‘full-speed-ahead approach,’” said UTLA president Warren Fletcher.

Fletcher said union members have serious concerns about the cost and usefulness of the iPad program.

In a revised spending plan that emerged this week, school district officials hope to spend $135 million in the spring semester for the next portion of the iPad distribution.

The money would pay for 24,541 tablets at 38 schools and 28,385 iPads for teachers and administrators across the school system. The plan also calls for buying an additional 67,480 tablets to allow for all students to take new state standardized tests with the tablet on a rotating basis. In addition, the plan calls for buying more than 116,000 keyboards and 2,000 storage and charging carts.

At the same hour, a Board of Education committee sought to address ongoing questions and concerns over the iPad program at the downtown district headquarters.

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stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

howard.blume@latimes.com