Do transparent backpacks make schools safer?

In response to the school shooting in Uvalde, more and more schools are strengthening the security of their campuses; some Austin-area districts, however, have decided not to add clear backpack requirements. Experts say that while clear backpacks are popular, they’re largely driven by emotion and not evidence.

The interim Superintendent of the Austin Schools said at a safety summit this month that school leaders decided not to require clear backpacks because parents thought they were unnecessary. He said planners would be open to such a requirement in the future, however.

“The community is usually strong advocates for their needs, but we are open to having that discussion if people feel like it’s necessary,” says Martinez.

Wayne Sneed, the new district’s police chief, said that he’s “listening to community, parents and local advocates” about transparent backpack and other safety topic. In early August, Sneed also set out some of D.C.’s other safety protocols as well such as new fire alarm systems, cameras and staff training, along with an additional $46 million if voters approve a November bond proposal.

Jaclyn Schildkraut, interim executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, says there’s no evidence that suggests clear backpacks would prevent mass shootings in schools.

However, schools are requiring clear bags since they will allow them to ensure prohibited items are not among the students’ belongings, and that security checks happen faster at the start of a new school year. The second-largest in Texas is quick to jump on board, including the Dallas school district.

These changes help to more effectively manage student possessions rather than trying to use clear backpacks which are commonly seen as theft-prone. The policy is based on safety recommendations and community feedback.

“We recognize that clear or mesh backpacks are not the only way to ensure student and staff safety,” promises the Dallas school district website. “This is merely one of several steps in our comprehensive plan to better ensure student and staff safety.”

Central Texas districts

Districts in Central Texas have moved to require clear backpacks. These mandates are designed to improve safety, as the backs of these backpacks are harder to see through. Some examples of items that do not need to be transparent include backpacks and purses for extracurricular activities or lunch boxes, pencil cases, etc.

In response to a student bringing in a BB gun, the Del Valle school district has established clear backpack guidelines.

Other local districts in the Austin area, including Round Rock, Hutto, Lake Travis, Bastrop, and Hays chose not to introduce a clear backpack rule this year.

‘Security theater’

The spokesperson for the Texas American Federation of Teachers said she thinks districts should make decisions about whether or not to implement clear backpack rules based on polls and feedback from residents and teachers.

Hill said that, even though schools have the best intentions, strict school backpack policies are often more popular with parents. She believes stricter gun control laws would be more successful with teachers in Texas, citing a poll led by the union conducted in June which found that 99% of state school employees support comprehensive background checks before all firearm purchase purchases.

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Schildkraut said schools are under pressure from parents and members of the community to keep students safe after a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Solutions such as metal detectors and clear backpacks have been implemented to make students feel more secure even with no evidence that they actually work.

Schildkraut added that with a clear backpack rule, the Uvald shooting wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. She said it’s still easy to carry items in backpacks and conceal them.