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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Alachua County Public Schools reverses clear backpack mandate

The change came after opposition from parents

<p>A sign in front of the Alachua County Public Schools district office building is seen Sunday, June 6, 2021.</p>

A sign in front of the Alachua County Public Schools district office building is seen Sunday, June 6, 2021.

The Alachua County Public Schools district reversed its Monday decision to mandate clear backpacks for middle and high-school students after parents raised concerns about their affordability, durability and practicality.

ACPS backtracked due the opposition, according to a Tuesday district statement. Parents were particularly concerned with the transparent material exposing personal hygiene products, ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said. The district was planning to purchase backpacks for those who could not afford them and allow make-up pouches and pencil boxes for increased privacy, Johnson said, but parents emailed and called school board members and the superintendent to oppose the proposal. 

The district will hear how the community, including students and families, think it should address school security, according to the statement.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times what happens in the community will spill over into the schools and vice versa,” Johnson said.

In May, ACSO arrested a 15-year-old student at Fort Clarke Middle School for bringing a loaded gun to the school’s campus. One parent, Olaolu Ogunlano, said he would pull his sixth grade son out of the school after the incident because he felt Fort Clarke had not taken prior warnings from him about potential violence seriously. 

Anntwanique Edwards, ACPS’s chief of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, initiated two meetings with local law enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, according to ACPS’s original Monday news release. 

The shooting left 19 children and two teachers dead in Robb Elementary School and has since led to national gun and school safety debates, including Gainesville demonstrations this month.

ACPS studied guidelines put in place by other districts regarding clear backpacks to inform its policy, Johnson said. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland put a clear backpack policy in place after the 2018 shooting that killed 17 people.

The meetings called for clear backpacks, better communication between schools and law enforcement and safety training for families and staff, according to the original statement. 

GPD Chief Lonnie Scott said he was in favor of the policy, according to the original statement, but he also noted there isn’t just one solution to the problem of school violence.

“Despite the unfortunate inconvenience to students and families, this policy is certainly worth trying,” he said.

 But a petition on entitled “Let us have our normal backpacks!” that pushed back against the policy had garnered more than 1,900 signatures as of Tuesday evening.

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Omar Ateyah

Omar Ateyah is a rising third-year student and The Alligator's criminal justice reporter. He enjoys going on long, thoughtful walks. 

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