Clear backpack policies are mere “security theater,” says safety expert

District leaders should reevaluate their safety planning procedures rather than rely on a method for which students can easily find a work-around.

Implementing a clear backpack policy is better described as “security theater” than a meaningful, effective school safety strategy.

So says Kenneth Trump, president of  National School Safety and Security Services, who shared his thoughts on the clear backpack policy that several school districts have decided to implement following the Uvalde shooting.

“Students can still hide weapons and other illicit items in folded shirts and hoodies, or between books and supplies, if they really want to get weapons into a school,” said Trump. “Many simply would carry the weapon on their person in the first place.”

He also noted that he often hears complaints regarding privacy concerns with regard to clear backpacks, especially from female students. “One of the biggest complaints we hear from students about clear backpacks is that they create privacy concerns for female students whose feminine hygiene items would be visible to other students.”

Despite the controversy, several districts have already issued a clear backpack policy.

The Dallas Independent School District in Texas announced last Monday that it will now require students to carry clear or mesh backpacks to class. Another Texas district, Del Valle ISD, announced last week that students in K-12 will be required to carry clear backpacks for the upcoming school year.

While forcing students to carry clear backpacks may seem like a cost-effective security strategy, Trump said that schools need to be intentional about equipping their staff with the best practices for security and emergency, including those who aren’t teachers or administrators.

“School leaders need to allocate time for professional development for not only teachers and administrators, but also school support staff,” said Trump. “Office support staff, custodians and maintenance teams, food services staff, bus drivers, security staff, and others are on the front lines and need to be given training on best practices for security and emergency preparedness from the perspective of their respective work groups.”

It’s easy to spend money on security equipment to help parents feel that their kids are in good hands, according to Trump. However, he urges schools spend more time investing in their staff.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is that school administrators are more willing to throw money at visible, tangible target hardening equipment but will not allocate a half-day on their three-day back-to-school professional development agendas to address best practices in school safety, security and emergency planning,” said Trump.

“Administrators also need to allocate time for school safety teams to focus on the three P’s: Plan, prepare and practice.”

In order to create safer schools so that students are rid of the uncertainty and fear that serve as detriments to their mental health, district leaders need to allocate the right resources.

“School leaders can say that school safety is their number one priority but if it is not reflected in their budgets, and even more so in their allocation of time and day-to-day leadership, it is just rhetoric,” said Trump. “School safety is as much, if not more so, about leadership than it is about money.”

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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