VANDALIA — Butler High School will have a new backpack policy for students when they return from Christmas break.
Beginning January 8, 2019, students will no longer be allowed to carry backpacks or book bags with them throughout the day. Instead, prior to classes beginning, all bags will be required to be in student’s lockers where they will remain until the end of the school day.
Superintendent Rob O’Leary said concerns about students carrying bags during the day was an item identified during the district’s safety audit that was conducted earlier this year. The district has been implementing multiple safety measures, including placing armed School Safety Officers in each building, as a response to a number of school shootings in recent years.
“At the end of the day, its about creating layers of safety,” O’Leary said. “The fact that right now students can carry backpacks anywhere throughout the day – there are risks with that. We can’t ever say with 100% certainty that we are able to stop something from happening, but the fact that they (bags) are not in the classroom or the hallway means someone would have to go to their locker. Its an added layer of safety.”
In a letter to parents, O’Leary noted that college and professional athletic events, concerts, and other large gatherings have prohibited or restricted bags at their venues.
“Many schools in our immediate area, in the state, and nation have restricted or banned packs/bags altogether,” he wrote. “It is clear safety and security is the driving reason behind these decisions.”
While multiple students contacted the Drummer with concerns about the policy, none went on the record. Those concerns were primarily about inconvenience or lack of time between classes for multiple locker visits.
One student, however, pointed out a seeming contradiction because students are instructed to use their backpacks as shields during and active shooter incident as part of ALICE training.
O’Leary acknowledged this and said it has been a point of conversation.
“I have heard that concern from students, and yes, it was taught, that is true,” he said. “As we are looking at this, you have to look at all sides and I’ve thought about that. We have to look at the risk of both sides. On one side, there are other items in a classroom students can use, but on the other side you are taking a big risk out of the classroom.”
O’Leary said said every decision on safety is a balancing act that attempts to calculate inconvenience with the benefit received in an effort to get to the lowest risk possible.
“When you tighten security and change procedures to enhance safety, inconveniences do follow,” he said. “We apologize in advance for that. A lot of the things we have put into place have inconvenienced visitors, guests, volunteers, contractors, vendors, staff, coaches, and parents. All of those changes have really inconvenienced the adults. This is the first of the major initiatives we have made that inconveniences students.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.