Parents in Mississippi's Harrison County School District are upset over the last-minute announcement that all schools would require students to use mesh backpacks for the coming school year, even elementary schools, according to Lauren Walck, reporting for the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun-Herald.
"I'm just kind of flabbergasted about the whole situation," said Rebekah Rush of Saucier. She had already ordered a bookbag embroidered with her second-grader's name and matching lunch bag.
Harrison County middle schools and high schools already had the policy in place, but elementary schools will adhere to the same policy this year. The decision was made during the annual student handbook review by a group of parents, teachers, and principals. School board members were surprised by the change, but believe this is a viable tool to help deter having weapons brought onto campuses in the district.
Still, many parents are perturbed because they have already bought bookbags for their children and some say the mesh bags are not durable and will have to be replaced before the end of the school year, based on the frequency of replacement for high school students. Wiggins and Superintendent Henry Arledge say that in spite of disagreements, and the difficulty of making policy for such a wide range of needs across the district, "safety comes first".
The same scenario took place in the Shelby County Schools in Tennessee. Officials are requiring students in nine elementary schools to use clear backpacks so that weapons can be easily spotted. Molly Smith, reporting for WREG, says parents were taken by surprise and wished that they had known about this change before they had done their school supply shopping. Brittany Phillips, big sister to a 9-year-old Florida-Kansas Elementary School student, did not understand.
Phillips said, "I can understand middle and high school, but elementary school kids that have to wear clear backpacks for weapons?"
According to school board members, the bags are being paid for through a grant and are being given to students who will be attending "problematic middle and high schools" where there are cases of weapons being brought to school. WREG says that principals have not yet sent notice to families concerning the bags.
In Pittsburgh, Kyle Lawson, writing for Trib Total Media, says that the Gateway School District elementary students will receive clear backpacks at no cost for the upcoming school year. Two corporate sponsors purchased the backpacks for every K-4 student in the district.
The purpose is to allow teachers to see the contents of each bag as students arrive in the school building. At the end of the last school year, backpacks were banned after a student at one of the elementary schools in the district, found a loaded gun in his bookbag.
Gateway school spokesperson Cara Zanella said that if parents decide against clear backpacks, mesh bags will be permitted for those students. If a student arrives with another kind of bag, the student can keep his books and supplies, but will relinquish his bag and parents will be called to pick it up.
The school district in Birmingham, Alabama, requires that all students use a clear or mesh backpack. In an effort to make that happen, several groups across the city are helping these students prepare for school by not only supplying book bags, but also filling the bags with school supplies, says Honora Gathings, reporting for WBMA.