VARDEN—Students from Western Wayne High School (WWHS) spoke out at Monday's School Board meeting regarding recent security measures undertaken by the school which now prohibit students to carry backpacks with them throughout the school day.
WWHS senior Gary Geinitz, sophomore Hudson Malinowski, and several silent student supporters addressed the board with a letter and petition stating their dissent with the measure enacted on August 16, just before the start of the school year.
As detailed in the student petition, which had achieved over 1,000 signatures as of Monday's meeting, students aver the backpack prohibition hinders their preparedness, makes it more difficult to get to class on time and strains their arms and back.
The students also state the lockers are not large enough to accommodate books, a bag, a coat and any extracurricular items they may need in their day to day activities.
Geinitz stated, “I know you guys banned them in regards to mostly safety, which alludes to a ban on vapes, illegal substances, weapons etc.”
He further noted banning backpack usage in regards to these circumstances, particularly vapes, drugs and smaller weapons such as knives and pistols, is ineffective as the contraband can still be smuggled in one's clothing.
Malinowski added that, while bags worn on the back are prohibited, small purses are still allowed.
“Many students have been bringing messenger bags and much larger purses than were intended, but no repercussions have been brought against them for that,” she said, emphasizing that contraband items can still be hauled in these bags.
Geinitz offered potential alternative solutions to address the disciplinary issues while still allowing students to carry their backpacks.
This included implementation of metal detectors to catch weapons and other contraband coming into the school, increased security in the halls and lunch area, and bulletproof glass in the lunchroom.
“It will be impossible to completely eliminate or control illegal substances as well as prevent any situations of mass shootings,” said Geinitz. “But banning the carrying of backpacks does not seem to have the desired outcome for students, staff or parent in theory and so far in practice. There has been no research in schools who have already banned them as to whether they increase safety or not.”
Some parents likewise offered solutions including use of transparent backpacks which would allow students to carry their items while not concealing anything.
Others inquired as to the potential of introducing electronic learning devices containing the curriculum to cut down on the amount of items students would have to carry in their arms from class to class.
Addressing the students' and parents' concerns, Superintendent Dr. Matthew Barrett asked the district be allowed more time to work all the kinks out of the change.
“We appreciate your candor and your sincerity as well as your approach to it,” said Barrett, “We are adhering to that policy until further notice...We will continue to monitor it.”
Noting the students brought up cogent, accurate points, Barrett stated there is no fix all for student safety and contraband management.
“The goal is to try to minimize any potential harmful situation that students may put themselves or others in,” he said.
In regards to larger bags and purses worn around the shoulder, Barrett noted these are not permitted and staff should reprimand those carrying them accordingly.
Similarly, Barrett explained metal detectors would incur a greater costs for the school in equipment, personnel, and time to get all the students through the doors and off to class.
The superintendent explained backpacks were not allowed to be carried in the high school at all until approximately three years ago.
“The administration was trying to be accommodating of kids carrying more and more stuff with athletics or going to the middle school from the high school and vice-versa because we had to share teachers...They tried it out to see how it went. There were a lot of repercussions administratively that were a result of allowing that.”
High School Principal Paul Gregorski explained “I would say recently, especially leading up to last year, there was significant uptake in the amount of unauthorized items that were in the building that were significant disciplinary concerns.”
Asking again for patience and time to assess the practice, Barrett stated, “If at the end, we find out it's not working, we'll reconsider it at that point.”
At present, Western Wayne High School students have roughly four minutes between classes in which they can visit their lockers and change books.
Extra time is allocated during their lunch to do so as well.
Geinitz requested the administration consider allocating that extra time between classes to aid student travels to and from their lockers and to class.
The board and administration agreed this and other concerns would be taken into consideration as they assess the efficacy of the backpack carrying prohibition.