Harford County school board alters student bag policy to protect laptops, other devices from damage

·3 min read

Sep. 14—The Harford County Board of Education is waving part of its backpack policy to allow students to properly carry their electronic devices after several have been damaged.

The policy originally prohibited students from carrying backpacks or similar items while inside the school. Previously, the bags had to be stored in lockers.

Students have been carrying laptops, tablets and other electronic devices provided by the school system by hand. As a result, several devices have been damaged — dropped or slammed against lockers and walls, according to Patrick Spicer, the school system's legal counsel.

He asked the board Monday night to disregard part of the backpack policy as it pertains to string-bags and carrying cases, and delete the policy in its entirety from the Board Policy Manual since it's a matter regulated by school staff instead of board members.

The policy, which was put into effect in 2002, stated backpacks or similar items must be stored in lockers or designated areas during the school day "because of the importance of maintaining a safe environment in the school." Spicer said similar items could be string bags or carrying cases for devices.

And Spicer later added that the policy itself was flawed. He called it an "operational matter," stating that decisions on bag use should be up to administrators, like directors of elementary and secondary directors, instead of school board members.

Mike O'Brien, executive director of middle and high school performance, said in an email that students started carrying devices at schools last year. The school system started collecting data on damages to the devices and noted the significant number of accidental drops from carrying them around.

"The previous backpack/bag policy was strict in that it did not allow for any type of bag to be used during the day," he said in an email. "HCPS leadership proposed the changes to the bag policy to allow students to utilize a string bag to carry their device — thus decreasing the number of accidental drops."

He added that backpacks still will not be allowed, however, string bags and laptop cases are permissible.

Jillian Lader, spokesperson for the school system, said students started carrying laptops as the school system recently provided enough devices for every student. HCPS had been in the process of purchasing devices for every student prior to the pandemic, she said. But the process was expedited when students began virtual learning last year.

All students at HCPS are in person, but the devices are still being utilized by students in the classroom.

O'Brien said during Monday's meeting "none of our principals are interested in allowing backpacks." But he added that they want to prevent laptops from slipping out of kids hands and falling down two flights of stairs.

About half of Harford principals report damaging devices is an issue, he said. He also noted students at Joppatowne High School, which is under construction, do not all have access to their lockers, so they are already allowing backpacks.

The board voted unanimously to allow students to use string bags and cases and delete the policy from the board's manual.

Most of Monday's virtual meeting consisted of public comment. The school system stated 55 people registered to speak and majority of the comments were critical of balancing enrollment recommendations, an effort that will require some Harford students to be redistricted to other schools. A message about the what the superintendent's redistricting recommendations are is expected to be sent Tuesday evening.

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