Florida's Broward County school district — the sixth largest school district in the U.S. — announced this week that it will require students to carry clear backpacks to school next year.
"The purpose of this requirement is to add an additional layer of safety across our district and provide added safeguards for our students, staff and faculty," reads a statement on the district's website. "While backpacks are not mandatory, they must be clear and all contents within the backpack must be visible."
The district also notes that "mesh and colored backpacks are NOT permitted, even if they are transparent."
When asked for comment, a representative for Broward County Public Schools referred Yahoo Life to a taped press conference held by district officials. Broward County is home to Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Fla., which was the scene of a school shooting that killed 17 people and injured 17 more in 2018.
There are exceptions to the new policy. Students are allowed to have a small non-transparent pouch for personal hygiene items (like tampons and pads), thermal food containers inside clear lunch boxes, a "school-approved sport-specific carrying case for athletic equipment" and a "school-approved instrument-specific carrying case for band equipment." All lunch boxes must be clear and made of transparent plastic or vinyl material. Worth noting: Faculty, staff and visitors do not have to follow the clear backpack requirement.
Students who don't follow the requirement "will be subject to search and appropriate disciplinary action," the district says online.
The policy isn't unique — New Jersey's South River school district and the Dallas Independent School District (the second largest school district in Texas) started requiring clear backpacks this year. But Broward County's policy has gotten a lot of pushback, including from Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union.
"The teacher's union was not involved in the policy," Fusco tells Yahoo Life. She says she's heard from teachers who have "mixed emotions" about the clear backpacks. "Is it a privacy invasion? Are these backpacks going to hold up? And how is this going to fix the problem that we have?" she says.
Fusco says the teacher's union is currently trying to pass a referendum to get more funding for security in schools and is "in favor" of having security officers randomly do metal detector wand checks on students.
As for affordability. Fusco notes that the district said they "will try" to provide bags for students but "there is no plan." She adds, "this was done off the cuff."
School safety experts say this policy doesn't do enough. "There is nothing wrong with requiring clear backpacks and including it as a component of your school's target hardening initiative but, like any other deterrent program, if it is not properly implemented, it will provide little or no value from a safety and security standpoint," John Matthews, executive director of the Community Safety Institute, tells Yahoo Life.
Matthews points out that clear bags have been required for years at sports stadiums "but when no one is properly inspecting the bag for weapons, the program is not effective." He also says that "it could be argued that the policy, if not properly enforced, is a liability because the school is admitting they have security issues."
Kenneth S. Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, tells Yahoo Life that clear backpacks are "security theater."
"While well-intended, clear backpacks do more to provide emotional security blankets for parents than they will to make schools safer," he says. "Ironically, the Broward district tried this after the Parkland school shooting and it failed miserably with widespread student and parent opposition. What sense does it make to in essence say, This failed when we tried it the last time at one school, so let's do the same thing again and do it at all of our schools?"
Trump says that there is "no research" to suggest that clear backpacks prevent school shootings. "Experience suggests that an armed individual can easily circumvent this policy by carrying the weapon on his or her person, or conceal it inside another legitimate item inside the clear backpack," he says.
Clear backpacks also create a climate "where educators and school safety staff have to play 'backpack police' instead of focusing on supervising children and building relationships with kids, which leads to learning about threats, weapons and plots that can be prevented," Trump says.
Safety experts say that Broward County needs to do more. "Social media monitoring and student reporting of social media concerns is a key to school safety," Matthews says. "Research shows that over 90% of school shooters 'leak' information and details about the upcoming shooting prior to the event so everyone on campus has a responsibility to report and stop the shootings before they occur."
Trump says that schools need to find a "balance between hardware and heartware: Prevention, intervention and mental health supports for students, a welcoming and supportive school climate, reasonable security and emergency preparedness measures and collaborative safety efforts with first responders, mental health and other community partners."
The district needs to do more to ensure students and staff are safe, according to Fusco. "Clear backpacks are not fixing the problem — it's just putting a Band-Aid on it," she says.
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