iPads are distributed at Roosevelt

Bianca Gomez, left, Humberto Salazar and Doroteo Cruz are happy to receive iPads at Theodore Roosevelt High School, as part of the first phase of L.A. Unified's iPad rollout. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles school officials have failed in their efforts to get full access to a digital curriculum that the school system purchased in June.

The curriculum, developed by Pearson for use on district iPads, is off-limits because Pearson is likely to bid on a separate contract with the L.A. Unified School District, and district rules limit contact between a bidder and the district.

Some of the curriculum is available for use on the devices, but officials have wanted to see all of it.

The issue came up at a meeting last week of the district's technology committee, headed by school board member Monica Ratliff. She has attempted to get access to the curriculum for months.

"It just seems outrageous that we would be unable to see the curriculum no matter how hard we try," Ratliff said. "It just seems that something is wrong."

A so-called Cone of Silence limits communications during the competition for a contract "to ensure a level playing field with an open and competitive process," according to district documents. The new competition is to decide which vendors will provide devices and instructional materials for laptops. That bidding process began Friday.

Now Ratliff will be unable to contact Pearson — or even speak publicly about the Pearson curriculum in any way — until a vote to approve the laptop contract comes before the Board of Education, said district lawyer Greg McNair.

Ratliff has tried to review the curriculum for months. It was packaged into a deal for iPads that is costing the district $768 per device. The district's goal is to provide a portable computer to every student, teacher and school administrator as part of a $1-billion-plus technology program.

Initially, Ratliff was thwarted because the curriculum wasn't complete. This was not a violation of the district's contract with Pearson; L.A. Unified agreed that the curriculum could be completed at a later date.

But the situation did frustrate Ratliff, other officials and members of the public when questions arose about the Pearson materials and the process that led to the contract.

Recently, Pearson told district officials it had completed the curriculum but still could not provide these materials without the permission of Apple, the maker of the iPads. Apple is the lead vendor on the contract. This permission was not immediately forthcoming.

More recently, in communications with L.A. Unified, Apple and Pearson representatives have talked of scheduling issues that seemingly have made it impossible for them to coordinate successfully with Ratliff and her committee. Now that contact is shut down entirely, possibly for months. By then, Ratliff's committee will be out of operation. Its last scheduled meeting is in March.

Apple, contacted on Friday, had no immediate comment. A Pearson spokeswoman last week made a distinction between the curriculum and the courses through which it will be taught. The courses, said Susan Aspey, "are in the production process" and will be ready by fall 2014.

Aspey added that Pearson "has been responsive to all media requests for demonstrations" of the instructional materials.

Pearson's kindergarten-through-8th grade math curriculum recently received state approval and Ratliff could possibly obtain copies of that portion from the state. But she still would not be allowed to say anything. She said the situation has seriously hindered her ability to provide oversight of the project.

howard.blume@latimes.com