Growing Debate at Schools: Clear Backpacks

More districts requiring them to deter shootings, but critics say it's 'security theater'
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 4, 2023 4:50 PM CDT
More Schools Call for Clear Backpacks to Deter Shootings
Some schools will limit which types of backpacks kids can bring on campus.   (Getty / Kalinovskiy)

As a new school year begins, backpacks are getting a more thorough look in some districts. New policies requiring clear bags or otherwise restricting regular backpacks are being passed, though the effectiveness of how these measures deter school shootings is still up for debate. The Washington Post reports that in the last 18 months, at least 27 districts have imposed new backpack rules, with some exceptions for seasonal athletic equipment bags and musical instrument cases. Proponents argue that clear backpacks could potentially prevent students from bringing weapons, but others view them as symbolic gestures that don't address the root causes of school shootings.

"While well-intended, clear backpacks do more to provide emotional security blankets for parents than they will to make schools safer," Kenneth S. Trump of the National School Safety and Security Services tells Yahoo Life, calling such requirements "security theater." Instead, he suggested investing in more prevention, intervention, and mental health support for students along with reasonable security measures. School shooting expert Jaclyn Schildkraut tells the Post that requiring clear backpacks can also send the wrong message to students. "It's making the adults feel better that something's being done. But what messaging are you sending to the students?" Schildkraut says. "If it's in response to something like a high-profile, rare instance of violence, you're telling them either we don't think your school is safe or we don't trust you not to be the next perpetrator."

In Petersburg, Virginia, clear backpacks provided by the schools are a new requirement for the 2023 academic year, reports NBC12, with broad support among the district. "This is something from our school board, our administrators, and our teachers," says Superintendent Dr. Tamara Sterling. "Everyone was on board with it, so it was quite easy to get it before and get it approved." But implementing backpack policies isn't always simple. Supporters of backpack restrictions are glad that schools are taking any action to keep schools safe, and cite cases where kids hid handguns in their backpacks. But opponents argue that clear backpacks, along with impeding on student privacy, do not prevent students from hiding a gun in their clothes or between books.

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When new backpack requirements were enforced at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the Parkland school shooting, many students pushed back, and the following year, the requirement was lifted. Banning backpacks started in the '90s after a school shooting in Kentucky, per the Post. In 2022, there were 46 school shootings in the United States. (Follow the latest news on school shootings here.)

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