Recent school stabbings and cases of students caught with weapons have driven some districts to ban traditional cloth backpacks in favor of easily searchable clear or mesh bags.
“The idea is that clear bags will act as a deterrent and make it harder for someone to bring a weapon on campus,” says Aubrey Chancellor, spokesperson for the North East ISD in San Antonio.
In April, a 17-year-old student allegedly brought three loaded guns and a knife to the district’s Madison High School. His parents realized the guns were gone from their home and found their son on campus before any violence occurred.
While it was unclear what the student planned to do with the weapons, he was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon in a prohibited place and making a terroristic threat, according to published reports.
The school’s leaders acted quickly—they banned all but clear or mesh backpacks. All other bags are searched and confiscated by school officials.
At the time of this writing, a district safety committee was determining whether clear backpacks would be required at all North East ISD middle and high schools. If the district moves forward with the policy, administrators will ask local merchants to stock more of these bags for parents to purchase.
There are still concerns that students could hide weapons inside an item such as a scarf, Chancellor says. “Unfortunately, there is not a magic wand we can wave to make sure there are no weapons ever being brought on campus,” she adds.
In a handful of districts, including Dallas ISD and Chicago Public Schools, students can carry only clear bags. In the 2010-11 school year, 21 students nationwide died violent deaths in schools, and among 15-to-18-year-olds, 14 out of every 1,000 students were victims of violence, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Franklin Regional School District in Murrysville, Pa., has not allowed K12 students to carry backpacks in schools since 2004. Backpacks must be stored in cubbies or lockers during the day.
Middle and high school students can carry gym clothes in opaque drawstring backpacks or put laptop cords in small bags, Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac says.
But the policy didn’t stop a 16-year-old from allegedly smuggling two eight-inch kitchen knives into Franklin Regional Senior High School in April and stabbing 20 of his fellow students and a security guard, according to published reports. The student has been charged with attempted homicide.
After the stabbing, a local car dealership donated 1,500 see-through packs, and the district ruled that students could carry only these clear bags. “In the wake of the trauma our district has been through, we want to do anything we can to provide additional peace of mind for students and staff,” Reljac says.
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