Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Nearly 400 iPads have been reported lost, stolen or damaged this year, according to the Clark County School District.
Of the 7,235 iPads issued to students and staff at Bridger, Garside, Martin, Sedway and Von Tobel middle schools:
• 275 iPads, or 3.8 percent, were damaged. (Repair needs ranged from broken "home" buttons or headphone jacks; chipped or dented casings; and loose, cracked or shattered screens.)
• 83 iPads, or 1.1 percent, were stolen.
• 29 iPads, or 0.4 percent, were lost.
Thieves are targeting schoolchildren carrying CCSD-issued iPads to and from school, according to Metro Police.
Although educators praise iPads for raising student engagement and possibly academic achievement, local law enforcement officials are concerned these $400 pieces of equipment could pose a new safety hazard for students.
In September, the Clark County School District launched a $2.5 million iPad program, putting more than 7,000 tablet computers into the hands of students and staff at five low-income middle schools.
The idea behind the Engage, Empower, Explore (E3) program is to level the technological playing field for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Students who otherwise may not have a computer at home could use the iPad to complete homework assignments and access technology outside of school.
"These educational tools keep students more engaged and working collaboratively," said Jhone Ebert, the district's chief technology officer. "It's phenomenal."
However, Metro Police officials say they are now seeing a troubling trend with this new technology.
"We have seen a definite rise in incidents of students — visibly carrying these iPads or perceived to be carrying iPads — being targeted by criminals for theft," Metro Police spokesman Bill Cassell said. "So far, we don't believe any children have been injured, but we are very concerned that this situation could escalate."
Cassell said he could not comment on the prevalence of iPad thefts because Metro doesn't have a database tracking the number of School District-issued iPads that have been stolen.
However, 83 iPads have been stolen from students this year, according to the School District. This represents a little over 1 percent of the 7,235 iPads issued as part of the E3 program.
The district data did not break down how the iPads were stolen — whether by force or taken from an unattended backpack.
Criminals may be targeting elementary schoolchildren because it's easier to intimidate and physically overpower them as opposed to teenagers or adults. The underground market for stolen Apple devices, such as iPads, also is lucrative and is blamed for the spate of iPhone thefts in New York City subways.
School District officials have been concerned about this issue from the beginning and worked with Metro, North Las Vegas and School District police departments to find ways to minimize the threat to students.
Students must sign an acceptable-use policy and undergo orientation with their parents before taking out an iPad. They are taught to keep their iPads protected with cases and to keep them hidden while walking to and from school.
In addition, each of the iPads has a serial number and the Find My iPad recovery app installed.
The serial number can be used by local pawn shops to identify stolen district property, and the recovery program uses GPS and Wi-Fi signals to pinpoint the location of a missing iPad. The School District police department will use the coordinates to dispatch officers to the location.
“We’ve taken several safety precautions to make Clark County School District iPads something that no one will want to take,” district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said when the program was announced in September 2012. “The bottom line is this: These are for our students and their education. If you steal a CCSD iPad, you will go to jail.”
However, law enforcement officials have discovered loopholes in those precautions.
Some parents have restored their child's iPad to factory settings, rendering the Find My iPad app useless, and pawned it off, according to Metro Police. Parents must file a police report before the district will issue a replacement iPad, district officials said.
Next year, the School District is expanding the E3 program to five more middle schools. The School Board also is looking at changing its school policy to allow students to bring their own laptops to campus.
This influx of new and pricey technology has Metro Police worried about children's safety.
"We always have a concern that criminals will prey on children," Cassell said.
However, district officials argue the educational benefits of the iPads and the relatively low incidence of stolen iPads compel them to continue the program.
"There are a few rotten apples, but (the iPad program) does so much good," district spokeswoman Melinda Malone said.