The Dallas Independent School District has announced that it will require the use of clear or mesh backpacks for students in 6th-12th grade starting in the 2022-2023 school year. The district said the new mandate is one of several steps in its “comprehensive plan to better ensure student and staff safety.”
Districts nationwide have scrambled to implement safety measures in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. Dallas ISD will be joining other Texas school districts like Kennedale ISD, Greenville ISD, and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Houston, which also have a clear backpack policy for middle and high school students.
However, the clear backpack policy has its critics.
“A clear backpack is something that you can hold it up and say, ‘Look, we’re trying,'” David Riedman of the K-12 School Shooting Database told The Dallas Morning News. “It’s just not a very effective measure for actually stopping anything.”
Riedman claimed that what has been effective is for students to report changes in the behavior of their classmates. Having every student carry a clear backpack, he argued, sends a message of distrust, and trust is necessary for students to feel comfortable reporting suspicions to adults.
Michael Dorn, a former police officer and the current executive director for Safe Haven International, a K-12 school safety center, commented, “Clear bookbags are a well-intended but relatively ineffective measure.”
He explained that it would be very easy for kids to stash a weapon in a hollowed-out book, wrap a gun in clothing, or hide it in a tennis shoe.
A video featuring Dorn posted on the Safe Haven website demonstrates a person’s ability to conceal weapons in their clothing, as he pulls out 12 guns, including pistols, semi-automatics, a submachine gun, and a shotgun that were hidden in his clothes.
Dorn recommends that schools enforce a dress code to make it more difficult to hide weapons in clothing.
“The most important thing there is the beltline is visible, so you can’t conceal a weapon,” the former officer explained.
DISD stands behind its clear backpack mandate as one of several measures intended to improve school security.
“Our decision stems from safety recommendations made by the district’s Safety Task Force and Internal Task Force as well as feedback from students, parents, and the community,” the district stated in a news release. “We acknowledge that clear or mesh backpacks alone will not eliminate safety concerns. This is merely one of several steps in the district’s comprehensive plan to better ensure student and staff safety.”
Affected Dallas ISD students will still be able to carry a non-clear pouch no bigger than 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches inside their new mandated clear backpacks. The non-clear pouch would be used to hold personal items such as money, cell phones, and hygiene products.
DISD stated all backpacks not meeting the criteria will be confiscated and kept in school offices where parents or guardians can pick them up.
The district also noted it will use tax dollars to provide clear backpacks to students before the school year begins on August 15.
As reported in The Dallas Express, in preparation for the new school year and in the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas schools have implemented several other safety measures, such as inspecting every exterior door on campus before school starts, conducting summer safety audits, and reviewing emergency operations protocols.
The DISD has experienced its own safety issues on campus in the recent past, though no fatal shootings have occurred.
Last March, the culpable DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa attempted to address the violence at Woodrow Wilson High School after multiple gunshots were fired during a fight at school dismissal. School officials identified the individuals involved in the fight, but not the shooter. No one was injured.
The incident was the third of the 2021-2022 school year; two other incidents involved altercations with police, who seized two weapons during one of the confrontations.
An altercation in 2020 led to one adult firing a shot at another in the parking lot of North Dallas High School. Two people were taken into custody, and no injuries were reported.
In 2018, a woman was walking at 5:30 a.m. on the Skyline High School’s running track when she was approached by a person and shot in the ankle. The shooter fled but was later apprehended.
The year prior, a gun was accidentally discharged in a third-grader’s backpack at Pease Elementary, but no one was injured.
Last month, Governor Greg Abbott announced that $105.5 million taxpayer dollars in already-approved state funding would be transferred to various agencies and programs to enhance school security and improve mental health care. This fall, the Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) will also implement random intruder checks at Texas public schools.
Amid concerns about student safety in Texas, a 2022 World Population Review survey found Texas’ public schools K-12 ranked 33rd in the nation for academics.
As Texas falls behind the rest of the U.S., Dallas ISD has fallen behind the rest of the state. DISD’s STAAR scores for the 2020-2021 school year were below the statewide average across the board. For all grades and all subjects, only 60% of DISD students received scores of “approaches grade level,” compared to 69% in the state.
A four-year longitudinal study on the class of 2020 indicated that only 82.8% of the district’s students graduated high school on time, compared to a statewide rate of 90.3%.