Dallas ISD Clear Backpack Requirement Questioned by Education Experts | Dallas Observer


Are Clear Backpacks the Answer to Stopping Another School Shooting?

School districts around Texas have begun requiring students to use clear backpacks following the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
School districts around Texas have begun requiring students to use clear backpacks following the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Last year’s Uvalde school massacre, during which 19 students and two teachers were killed, prompted districts across Texas to ramp up safety measures. Some officials floated ideas of “hardening” campuses by introducing metal detectors or even arming teachers.

Others have unveiled another policy entirely: see-through backpack requirements.

Shortly after Uvalde, Dallas ISD mandated the use of clear or mesh bags for kids in sixth through 12th grades. And officials announced late last month that they’re expanding the directive for the upcoming school year to include all district students.

The idea is that see-through bags will make concealing a gun more difficult, but some education advocates say the measure creates only an illusion of security.

Sheila Walker, president of the National Education Association-Dallas, said she hasn’t heard complaints about the edict. But, she added, the bags are “no substitute” for sensible gun reform.

“Requiring clear backpacks does make some families and students feel that they're being blamed for the state’s inaction on guns,” Walker said.

Many politicians refuse to tighten lax firearm laws despite the country’s serious mass shooting problem. Conservative Texas officials like Fort Worth state Rep. Nate Schatzline and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz have instead proposed one-door schoolhouses, an oft-criticized solution.

Walker wants to see more funding for mental health services in schools, noting a sharp spike in pandemic-induced mental health issues. She argued that if a kid is being bullied and wants to bring a gun to school, it won’t necessarily matter if the district requires see-through bags.

Some stakeholders have indeed pointed out that clear backpacks wouldn’t have stopped the Uvalde shooter from using an assault-style weapon during the attack. The same can be said for the person police say murdered 16-year-old Arlington Lamar High School student Jashawn Poirier outside the school building before classes began for the day. The assailant who shot and killed six people inside a school in Nashville in March was also not a student. That person shot through a glass door to enter the building.

Still, Walker gives credit where it’s due. She thinks that Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde, who was chosen by trustees for the role last year, has ushered in positive changes to ensure buildings are safe and presentable.

Several other Texas districts have previously adopted clear bag measures, like nearby Lancaster ISD and Cleveland ISD, close to Houston.

Yet other districts across the U.S. have implemented — and then scrapped — such policies.

“[T]hese are our babies that we're talking about.” – Sheila Walker, NEA-Dallas president

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In 2018, 17 students were slaughtered in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Afterward, kids in that district were made to don clear bags, but officials soon reversed course.

Students there had reportedly plastered their backpacks with decorations like prisoner ID badges and SpongeBob SquarePants memes as a form of protest.

“They really took issue, understandably, with being surveilled and the invasion of privacy and sort of being blamed for the epidemic of gun violence as opposed to addressing the root causes of that issue,” said Paige Duggins-Clay, chief legal analyst with the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonpartisan and education-focused civil rights nonprofit.

And the root cause of mass violence in schools? Guns, she said.

“The ability for all kinds of people, including young people, to access them so easily is a significant problem,” she said. “We will never solve this problem until we address that issue.”

Clear bag policies are something that “a lot of districts are entertaining,” Duggins-Clay said. School shootings are still rare but increasing in prevalence, and when they do occur, they’re traumatizing.

The phenomenon has led to a rise in hardening measures over the past decade or so, she said. Clear bags and metal detectors, as well as armed guards, are visible investments that demonstrate districts are taking action.

Do see-through backpacks work?

“Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any evidence that supports the efficacy of clear bag policies specifically,” Duggins-Clay said.

These rules may be well-intentioned, but they reinforce the notion that schools aren’t safe, she continued. Conversely, there is research that backs the idea that hardening policies are ultimately detrimental to student success and well-being.

It’s not fair to strip kids of their privacy and dignity when it’s really up to adults and policymakers to address gun violence, Duggins-Clay argued. Hardening campuses may also work to sow a climate of fear.

“When we tell students that we don't trust them or respect them, it makes it very hard to have that go both ways and prevent what could be behavior that could be intervened in early on — and stopped — [from escalating] into something really, really unsafe,” she said.

Investing in mental and behavioral health in schools is a worthwhile safety effort, Duggins-Clay believes.

One bill mandating armed guards on campuses was recently sent to the governor at a time when half of Texas school districts lack mental health services. That dichotomy is something that strikes Duggins-Clay as a “gross misalignment in priorities.”

Walker, with NEA-Dallas, believes that districts generally aren’t spending enough on security nor on ensuring staff are prepared to handle these situations when they occur. Providing solid training is crucial to securing schools, she said, and so is identifying visitors as they enter the building.

“When we go in governmental buildings, or when we go to the airport, there's so much in process to make sure that we're feeling safe,” Walker said. “Why can't we put those same type of fundings and same things in schools? Because these are our babies that we're talking about.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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