By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - FBI agents investigating the purchasing process for the Los Angeles school district's $1.3 billion effort to supply students with iPads have seized 20 boxes of documents, the district's superintendent said on Tuesday.
The surprise involvement of the FBI in the controversial project follows the October resignation of Superintendent John Deasy, who drew criticism over the process used to select Apple Inc to provide iPads and Pearson Plc to provide built-in curriculum. He was replaced by Roman Cortines.
The Los Angeles Unified School District's effort, launched in 2013, to equip each of its roughly 650,000 students with an iPad or another computer device was the largest educational technology project of its kind in the nation.
Deasy had described the so-called Common Core Technology Project as a civil rights initiative to help the district's mostly disadvantaged students, but it became a political liability for him.
On Monday, FBI agents went to the district's headquarters and seized 20 boxes of documents relating to the purchasing process for the project, Superintendent Cortines said in a statement.
"The L.A. Unified School District will offer its full cooperation to federal authorities during the course of the investigation," Cortines said, without elaborating on the scope of the probe.
The FBI investigation is the latest setback for a technology rollout that has encountered a series of problems, including students bypassing a security firewall on iPads and an independent report that found built-in curriculum was often incomplete.
Critics of the program faulted Deasy for appearing in a video for Apple in 2011, but Deasy denied that he and other officials exhibited favoritism toward Apple or Pearson.
Deasy said in September that he was suspending the district's contract with Apple, and that other companies would be invited to potentially step in to provide devices.
But the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the FBI investigation, reported on Tuesday that the suspension never fully took effect and that as recently as Monday the district was still planning to spend millions of dollars under the contract.
Deasy, who remains involved in working with the district through the end of 2014, could not immediately be reached for comment, and FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller declined to comment.
The school district has bought more than 90,000 devices, mostly iPads, under the Common Core Technology Project, said district spokeswoman Monica Carazo.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)