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Safety concerns prompt Ironton

Students in the Ironton School District will still be able to bring their books in backpacks this year, but only if school officials can see through them.

Friday, August 27, 1999

Students in the Ironton School District will still be able to bring their books in backpacks this year, but only if school officials can see through them. The district banned non-clear bookbags as a precaution, part of a nationwide trend of increased safety in schools.

Students in each school may only carry open mesh or clear bookbags and backpacks, district administrative assistant Susan Heyard said.

Athletic team members may carry gym bags, but not from class to class.

"I know some folks aren’t happy about it, but no one questions the intent," Mrs. Heyard said.

The Board of Education approved the policy last May as a response to concerns from parents and educators caused by the increase in school violence seen across the nation, she said.

Other districts in Lawrence County have set similar security policies to guard against dangerous items entering schoolgrounds in bookbags, but have not required the see-through variety.

"We’ve discussed it, but we haven’t gone that direction," Rock Hill superintendent Lloyd Evans said.

Student handbooks address proper uses of backpacks and bookbags at each school, so there have been no problems, Evans said.

And many students already have the clear backpacks, he said.

"Unless we start having particular difficulties with stuff being packed in, students can have any kind they want," Evans said.

South Point and other school districts answer safety concerns by limiting use of bookbags during class hours.

"We had the first bookbag rule in the county," South Point High School principal Henry Cooke said.

Students place bookbags in lockers when they first arrive and they must stay in a locker, Cooke said. None are allowed in the cafeteria.

Students can access books or gym clothes between classes, a departure from previous policies, he said.

The school also does not allow excessively large purses.

"When we set up our policy, the good thing is we sat down with the students and they agreed if they could go to lockers between classes, there wouldn’t be problem with bookbags staying in the lockers," Cooke said.

"We felt like we found something that worked out for everybody."

Chesapeake and other school systems either have not enacted district-wide policies on bookbags or, like South Point, mandate that bookbags be kept in lockers only.

At Symmes Valley, there is no board policy on types of backpacks or bookbags allowed, but individual schools often examine security issues internally, superintendent Tom Ben said.

In Ironton, school officials felt see-through bookbags promoted safety effectively and parents agreed, Mrs. Heyard said.

"There were calls in the beginning from some parents who thought (clear or mesh bags) would be too hard to find or too expensive," she said. "But even those who called agreed with the policy."

The see-through bags turned out to be easy to obtain and about $13 at area retailers, Mrs. Heyard said.

Ironton High School’s new student store also will sell the see-through bags, she said.

And at least one parent’s concern about keeping books dry while in a mesh backpack has been solved.

"She called and said she found the perfect solution," Mrs. Heyard said. "If you take an oven roasting bag, it’s a perfect fit inside the bookbag."