Middle and high school students will be forced to wear clear backpacks next year, the Alachua County school district announced Monday.
The decision to have clear backpacks comes after a rise in youth violence locally and nationally this past year, school officials said, which includes the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas where 19 students and two teachers died.
In May, an eighth-grade student at Fort Clarke Middle brought a gun to campus, which school board member Mildred Russell said was a factor in the mandate.
"This measure was taken to increase school safety and I think it's a good idea," she said.
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Parents received word of the changes via text, call and a news release late Monday afternoon.
"In light of concerns about youth violence and following discussion with law enforcement Alachua County Public Schools will require clear backpacks for only middle and high school students for the upcoming school year," the voicemail said.
It further said guidelines surrounding what kind of clear backpacks are permitted "and what can be inside" will be available by the end of next week, as some details still need to be worked out.
An online petition on Change.org titled "Let us have our normal backpacks!" was created shortly after the notice went out to families. It has already garnered more than 1,500 signatures and continues to grow.
"Not only is this expensive and not environmentally friendly, but it also doesn’t actually help what they are “trying” to help," the campaign's creator Julia Klein wrote. "Over 99% of fights in our county are with our fists, and the weapons they are trying to keep at home are weapons that could be hidden in textbooks, lunchboxes, folders, and so much more. Speaking of lunchboxes, does that have to be clear as well? What about sports bags? Musical instruments? Feminine products?"
Those who signed the petition agreed the rule change accomplishes nothing.
"Regulate guns, not f****** backpacks," wrote one person. Others called for metal detectors, while some said it was an invasion of student privacy.
"No evidence this makes kids safer while wasting family resources, generating more plastic pollution, and humiliating students with private items in their bags," said another petition signer.
Clear plastic bags not as durable, not bulletproof
Clear, plastic bags are not as easily found in stores and are known to be less durable. They also aren't created to be bulletproof like some heavier-duty bags to help people protect themselves in the event of a tragic shooting.
But district officials say bookbags are the main source to bring in banned items and that the change will provide a safer environment.
"I certainly support the idea," said Rob Hyatt, chair of the school board. "I think it's something that we can increase safety with."
Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead, students were also required to wear only clear backpacks.
After mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas in late May, Alachua County district officials decided to meet with representatives from local law enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to find ways at preventing similar possible threats locally.
Mandating clear, plastic bags was among the ways leaders said would bring down the number of violent incidents. Other remedies included more training on safety and security for school staffers and families.
“Safe schools promote safe learning environments for all our children,” said Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr. in a prepared statement. “I support the efforts of the school district in taking this step to keep our children safe.”
Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott agreed, saying that people must look for multiple strategies to find a solution.
“Despite the unfortunate inconvenience to students and families, this policy is certainly worth trying," he said.
The district said it will provide clear backpacks to families who are unable to provide them and it will be working with local organizations that provide textbooks. Officials said they plan to work with community leaders to meet the goal, which includes People Against Violence Enterprises, led by Pastor Karl Anderson, which distributes more than 1200 backpacks every year as part of its Stop the Violence/Back to School Rally.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Alachua County schools to force clear backpacks for middle, high school