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One day in the not-so-distant future, L.A. schools may have an app

The Los Angeles Unified School District is making plans to smarten up and move into the smartphone age.

On Tuesday, the Board of Education unanimously gave the go-ahead to create an L.A. Unified phone app.

It would fill a serious need because many of the district’s low-income families don’t have computers and internet service at home. For information, they rely on their cellphones.

Right now, that’s a problem when they go to Lausd.net, which isn’t optimized for — or easy to view on — a small screen.

About 12% of U.S. adults were “smartphone-only” internet users in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. That was the case for 1 in 5 households with annual incomes below $30,000. Nearly 9 in 10 L.A. Unified students come from low-income families.

Even with Tuesday’s vote, the district is in the early stages of planning. There isn’t a cost estimate yet, which worried board member Kelly Gonez.

But board member Nick Melvoin, who has been pushing for the app, said he hoped the technology could save money. The district recently spent $250,000 on a survey of parents conducted on paper. Money could have been saved, he said, if it had been done online.

There are plenty of models to look at, including the city of Los Angeles’ MyLA311 app. Parents at Revere Middle School in Pacific Palisades helped develop an app for their school, which gets high marks from parent Dora Khoubian.

It’s important, she told the school board, “to open a two-way communication between the district and parents in a meaningful way. ... For parents, this information is especially important in case of emergency.”

The district already has one specialized app, though it is not widely known. The facilities services division has an app to let people report school maintenance problems. It lets them document a problem — say, graffiti or peeling paint — and use GPS to show where it is.

Melvoin said he and his staff have collected input on what the district app should offer, including forms to be filled out, opportunities to donate to schools, information about district property available for use or rental, a display of school bus routes and a way for a school’s parents to communicate privately with one another.

“We want to make sure that we very carefully associate a parent’s account to a student’s records,” Chief Information Officer Shahryar Khazei said in an interview. “We want to protect privacy. We want to make sure it is the right parent accessing the student records.”

Officials are supposed to return to the board within 60 days with a proposal and budget.

howard.blume@latimes.com

@howardblume

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