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Dallas considers clear backpack mandate for school safety

The move comes just months after the Uvalde massacre

J. L. Long Middle School students
A group of J. L. Long Middle School students wear clear backpacks.(File art)

By Talia Richman

Dallas students will only be allowed to use clear backpacks next school year if officials sign off on a policy aimed at improving campus safety.

The shift would come just months after the deadly Uvalde massacre, which refocused education leaders across the country on preventing future school shootings.

Dallas ISD recently updated its dress code online with an entry outlining a new clear backpack policy for all students. Officials quickly deleted it later in the day, though the information has continued to spread on social media.

“This change to all-clear backpacks is one of the district’s measures to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff,” the now-deleted post read.

District spokeswoman Robyn Harris said that, as of Monday, the district does not have an active clear backpack policy.

“That very well could shift in the coming weeks as our senior leaders and others look at what would be best for the upcoming school year,” she said.

Discussions in Dallas ISD about a backpack policy shift were happening long before the Robb Elementary shooting.

“It’s a consideration we’ve been looking at for some time,” Harris said.

It’s possible elements of the policy change before the administration approves it. Other districts, for example, have required clear backpacks for high school and middle school students but not younger ones.

Still, it was noted in the now-deleted post that the district purchased clear backpacks for all students and would distribute them before the start of the school year. It’s unclear how much this initiative could cost.

The donated backpacks that will be handed out at the mayor’s back-to-school fair are clear, according to spokesman Tristan Hallman.

DISD added in the post that students would be allowed to carry within the backpack a small, non-transparent pouch to hold items like cellphones, money and hygiene products.

If implemented, the district will join a growing list of schools — including several in North Texas — requiring such see-through bags.

A FAQ on the DISD webpage said the policy will improve campus safety because “by seeing the items in the backpacks as students enter the school, campus personnel will be able to ensure that prohibited items are not included among the students’ belongings.”

Texas educators and politicians are grasping for ways to make schools more secure after a shooter killed 19 children and two adults in Uvalde in May. In the wake of previous attacks, officials have sometimes turned to clear backpacks as a potential solution.

Some school safety experts have questioned the effectiveness of the strategy.

“When there’s a public outcry to do something, school officials are put in a very difficult situation of having to show that they’re doing something immediately. A clear backpack is something that you can hold it up and say, ‘Look, we’re trying,’” said David Riedman, of the K-12 School Shooting Database. “It’s just not a very effective measure for actually stopping anything.”

After the Parkland massacre, students at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were required to wear see-through bags. That policy was derided by students who questioned why leaders were violating their privacy rather than push meaningful gun legislation.

Parkland school leaders reversed course on the plan.

District officials in Michigan took similar steps for students in middle and high school after a deadly shooting at Oxford High School.

Following the tragedy, Oxford school leaders were criticized by county leaders for not alerting a school resource officer about their prior concerns with the teenage shooter and not searching his backpack.

Riedman said that tips from students concerned about a classmate’s behavior are what’s been successful at stopping school shootings. Establishing trust between students and adults is important to foster a culture where they bring such information forward.

“Having every student wear a clear backpack is the school district kind of implicitly telling every student that we think you might be a threat,” he said. “By doing that, it’s eroding that trust.”

Other Texas districts already have a clear backpack policy. The Houston-area Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, for example, has required them for older students since 2018.

Now Kennedale ISD, about 10 miles outside of Fort Worth, is mandating all students in sixth through 12th grade use clear backpacks beginning this fall. Greenville ISD also recently announced they are requiring transparent bags to improve safety.

In a message to families, GISD officials wrote it was a “common-sense measure is becoming more common at both school and public events.”

Other school safety policies Texas schools will prioritize after Uvalde include: inspecting every exterior door of campus before school starts, conducting summer safety audits and reviewing emergency operations protocol.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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