At least 300 computers or tablets have been stolen from D.C. Public Schools in the past three years, far more than in larger, neighboring districts, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team.
The thefts include computers reported stolen during school hours, nights and weekends. They listed in a set of D.C. records obtained by the I-Team under the Freedom of Information Act.
Computer thefts in DC schools are three times more frequent than in the larger, neighboring Fairfax County Public School District. They are 20 times more frequent than in the Frederick County (Md.) Public School District, which has a similar number of enrolled students.
The records show a variety of equipment has been lifted in D.C., including laptops, tablets and desktops. At least two of the thefts occurred at Barnard Elementary School.
Two suspects executed a major heist at Maury Elementary in northeast D.C. in 2013, stealing 25 computers. One suspect has since been arrested, but 23 computers remain missing.
Joe Weedon, whose two children attend Maury, said thefts are too frequent.
“It’s sad that that continues to happen across the District,” Weedon said. “Computers are used every day ... parents have fought tooth and nail to get more of them into the classrooms."
Court records reviewed by the I-Team show at least one of a cache of school computers stolen from Luke C. Moore High School was sold online and shipped across the country. The buyer, according to the court records, was alerted when he or she powered on the computer for the first time. D.C. school computers are equipped with “LoJack” equipment rendering them ineffective by unauthorized users, unless those “LoJacks” are circumvented or tampered with, investigators said.
Other school districts, including Frederick County Public Schools, also protect their computers with tracking technology. Douglas Favorite, a Frederick County Public Schools technology administrator, said such protections are important.
“The laptops we hand out, they’re everywhere,” he said. “They’re easily grabbed and taken.”
D.C. Public Schools, like other local school districts, also equip buildings with surveillance cameras to reduce and help solve theft cases.
The school district declined multiple requests for an interview to discuss its higher rate of computer thefts. The district instead issued a written statement, which said, “Each digital device in DCPS, including computers, is set up with a tracking tool that monitors the location of the device when it is online. In addition, all DCPS school computers are stored in locked carts during the school day, and when they are not in use, they are stored in locked carts behind a locked door.”
In a statement to the I-Team, a DCPS spokeswoman said 121 insurance claims have been sought for stolen or lost computers since the beginning of 2014.
Weedon said the impact of these thefts is hurting taxpayers.
“DC schools are well-funded, but we're constantly trying to find more resources,” he said.
The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department said it arrested a man suspected of the thefts at Maury Elementary School. The police department told said it advised D.C. Public Schools to take steps to reduce the risk of theft, including locking windows, checking alarm systems and restricting unsupervised access to computers.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.