One of the largest school districts in Texas announced it will require students to use clear or mesh backpacks following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
The Dallas Independent School District, the second largest in the state, made the announcement Monday. It joins other districts in the state that have implemented similar policies, even though school safety experts say banning regular backpacks is “security theater” that funnels resources away from more effective approaches.
“It comes across as a knee-jerk reaction to make people feel as though something is being done,” said Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego. “But it’s really not going to do what people think it’s going to do, and it’s sending the wrong message.”
Texas schools move toward requiring clear backpacks
Beginning the next school year, students in sixth through 12th grade will be required to use clear or mesh backpacks, Dallas ISD announced. Other bags won’t be allowed.
The district said it will distribute free clear backpacks to students before the school year begins, adding that the decision came from safety recommendations from internal safety task forces and feedback from students and parents. Being able to easily see into students’ backpacks, the district said, would help staff ensure they aren’t carrying prohibited items.
“We acknowledge that clear or mesh backpacks alone will not eliminate safety concerns,” Dallas ISD said. “This is merely one of several steps in the district’s comprehensive plan to better ensure student and staff safety.”
The decision follows intense scrutiny of school safety measures in Uvalde, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on May 24.
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Other Texas districts, including Seguin Independent School District, Greenville Independent School District, Harper Independent School District, Southside Independent School District in San Antonioand Ingleside Independent School Districtsimilarly announced clear-backpack policies since the Uvalde shooting.
“School administrators are under enormous pressure from parents and the public due to the heightened media attention after high-profile incidents,” said Kenneth Trumppresident of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm.
More than anything, the policies are “an effort to appease the anxieties of school communities,” Trump said.
“But with security theater like this, it may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t always actually make you safer,” he said.
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Schildkraut said such policies have often been an anxiety-fueled reaction to high-profile school shootings, including the 2018 shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Floridashe said.
Students in that shooting were required to wear clear backpacks when returning to school.
While there is no official count of how many schools have had similar policies, Schildkraut said they’re rarely in place for longer than a year or two.
“These policies come when everybody’s emotions are incredibly heightened,” she said. “And then, when people’s heart rate gets back into a restricted zone a bit, these policies often don’t stay in place.”
Clear backpack policy ‘defies any sort of logic’
Despite their popularity as a reaction to school shootings, Schildkraut said requiring clear backpacks “defies any sort of logic” because it’s “incredibly rare that the perpetrator of a school shooting will bring a gun to school in a backpack.”
Also, if someone wants to do harm, she said they’re not going to be easily deterred by a clear backpack policy.
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michael dornexecutive director of Safe Havens International Inc., a global nonprofit school safety center, said these requirements are often well-intended but “largely ineffective” because of how easy it is to conceal weapons, even in clear backpacks.
While the center does not publicly show such demonstrations to avoid influencing people who may want to do harm, Dorn said he has shown school officials how as many as 26 weapons can be concealed in one student’s clear backpack.
Policy may damage trust between students, staff
Dorn said policies that require clear backpacks can also damage trust between students and staff and negatively impact school environments.
“We’re very big on trying to develop approaches that don’t punish all students for the actions of a few,” he said.
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Safe Havens has surveyed students at districts that have had clear backpack policies, including Broward County Public Schools, which includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
At Marjory Stoneman, Dorn said students showed administrators that the policy wasn’t effective by taking toy pistols to school to show how easy weapons are to hide. Many students criticized the policies as ineffective and violating student privacy. The requirement was scrapped just months after its implementation.
‘We don’t want to waste resources’
School districts usually have limited resources in three categories: time, energy and budget, Dorn said. When these resources fuel ineffective strategies, he said that means they’re being funneled away from other areas.
“Even something like bookbags can add up to quite a bit of money,” he said. “We don’t want to waste those resources.”
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Effective strategies for preventing violence in schools can also include investing in better training for school resource officers, including more culturally competent training tailored to the community a school is in, said Thaddeus Johnson, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Georgia State University.
“These simple solutions won’t automatically fix complex, structural issues,” he said.
Most shootings and other safety incidents “involve allegations of failures of people, policies, procedures, training and other human factors not failures of hardware, equipment and things like clear backpacks,” said Trump from National School Safety and Security Services. As a result, investing in better training for staff, more supervision in hallways and more teachers to build relationships with students can have a more significant impact on safety.
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Schildkraut also recommended better educating students in identifying and reporting potential threats, creating anonymous tip lines, and investing in threat assessment teams. Considering a school district’s door lock systems can also go a long way, she added.
“We need to invest into what will actually keep students safe rather than just more shiny objects,” Schildkraut said.
Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism