Why Are Some Schools Banning Backpacks?

Over the past two decades or so, backpacks have become as synonymous with school as reading, writing and 'rithmetic. How else can students transport all the books and supplies they need for classes each day? Despite their practicality, backpacks have taken a bad rap through the years. A growing number of schools are even banning them! Is the practice justified or simply an overreaction?

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backpack ban school weapons

Concealing Contraband

From water pistols to real pistols, backpacks have been used to carry paraphernalia other than schoolbooks and pencil cases. While certainly not the overwhelming number of cases, such instances have led to some administrators banning backpacks to dissuade students from sneaking illegal and dangerous items onto school grounds.

When Lake Placid Middle/High School in New York had a problem with a few students concealing alcohol, drugs and weapons in their backpacks, the school banned not only backpacks but handbags as well. Angry parents spoke out at a Lake Placid Board of Education meeting in early October 2011, feeling that all students were being made to suffer for the actions of a few.

Some schools address this problem by having security personnel check backpacks as students enter the building; others, such as those in Baltimore, require or allow students to wear clear backpacks. Still, the argument has been made that items can still be concealed in pockets or under clothing and later stashed in lockers.

Space Issues

Some schools say that backpacks are simply taking up too much room: too wide for narrow hallways, too cumbersome for small classrooms and too large to fit into lockers.

Nancy Jordheim, assistant superintendent of Fargo Public Schools in North Dakota, told WDAY News in August 2011: 'They become almost an additional danger zone because students do not necessarily appreciate the distance they stick out from their backs.' Principal John McSmith of Medical Lake High School in Washington told KREM.com last year, 'They look like parachutes walking around on their backs, it's huge.'

Scott Herrmann, principal of Gemini Middle School in Chicago (which banned backpacks about 15 years ago), told the Chicago Tribune in January 1998: 'We have 800 kids and narrow hallways, and a kid with a backpack just about doubles the space they take.'

And what about bringing them into classrooms and dropping them beside desks? Tripping hazards, some school officials say, considering that some backpacks are nearly the size of small luggage!

Backpacks Can = Bad Backs

For many years some schools have banned the use of backpacks due simply to health reasons.

Many physicians and medical associations agree that carrying heavy backpacks can lead to problems, including muscle strain and poor posture. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that backpacks worn incorrectly or packed too heavily can cause injuries to the neck, back and shoulders. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that nearly 28,000 backpack-related injuries were treated in 2010!

Principal Lynn Gottbrath of Wright Elementary School in Shelby County, Kentucky, even banned wheeled backpacks for the 2011-12 academic year because 'they're much heavier and cause a lot more stress to the student.' The American Chiropractic Association agrees that a large number of backpacks on wheels can lead to obstructed hallways and suggests that these types be used only by students who absolutely need to use them.

Basically, it would seem backpacks are a necessary evil despite compelling reasons for their banishment. Maybe they do strain backs and take up a lot of room. And there may be a few bad apples who use them inappropriately. But it still seems that when it comes to education, backpacking is the only way to travel.

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