Flint, MI—The Flint Schools Board of Education rejected a proposed mandate for students to carry clear backpacks, though board members stood divided on the matter.

At a meeting on Feb. 15, 2023, the Flint Community Schools (FCS) Board voted 4-3 against the administration’s proposal to ban backpacks for students across the district unless they are transparent. 

Board Secretary Claudia Perkins and Trustees Joyce Ellis-McNeal, Laura MacIntyre and Melody Relerford turned down the policy, expressing their desire to first seek feedback from parents.  

“These are their children,” Ellis-McNeal said. “We should hear their voices and at least have them have the input before we just make this decision tonight.” 

Relerford agreed, adding that the district should carry out a survey to gauge parents’ stance on the matter. 

The FCS administration originally brought the proposed policy to the Board at a Jan. 18 meeting, following a telephone threat made against the Accelerated Learning Academy that month. 

According to FCS superintendent Kevelin Jones, his team first began discussions about the clear backpack rule after the 2021 Oxford High School Shooting in Oxford Township, Mich.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Jones told Board members that the proposal is a preventative measure to help address the district’s safety, an issue that teachers and principals are worried about.

“This is about safety,” Jones said. “So if something happens on our grounds … and then we are waiting … to talk to parents to do this or to do that, our teachers are still showing up and they’re concerned about this.”

Flint Community Schools Superintendent Kevelin Jones listens to a board member during the Flint School Board meeting on Wednesday Feb. 15, 2023 at Accelerated Learning Academy in Flint, Mich. (Jenifer Veloso | Flint Beat)

Treasurer Dylan Luna, who voted for the policy alongside President Michael Clack and Vice President Terae King Jr, said the Board has already had nearly a month to seek input from parents. 

“This is a clear example of the Board getting in the way of good policy,” Luna said. “We need to approve this tonight to keep our students safe.” 

Luna also cited a Feb. 13, 2023 shooting at Michigan State University (MSU) to underscore the importance of being “proactive” with the district’s security measures. He added that teachers, principals and the administration are in favor of the clear backpack policy.

Earlier in the evening Karen Christian, a Potter Elementary School teacher and president of the United Teachers of Flint, called for a moment of silence for students who died at the MSU shooting. She then urged the district to move towards either a policy that bans all backpacks or enforces a clear backpack rule. 

“I don’t want to be that teacher that has to tell that parent, ‘I’m so sorry. I couldn’t protect your child,’” Christian told the Board. 

The FCS code of student conduct states that a students’ backpack cannot be searched without “individualized suspicion,” and Christian said clear backpacks would help teachers spot items that may be prohibited. 

“The policy is we don’t open up children’s backpacks,” Christian said. “If we don’t know what’s in the backpack, and sometimes our metal detectors don’t detect everything that’s in those backpacks, how do we know that nothing unsafe is coming into our building?” 

FCS officials had previously said that they plan to purchase clear backpacks for students across the district. That purchase amounts to $36,000 from state funding and Flint Schools’ third round of Covid-19 relief funding, known as ESSER III funding, district assistant superintendent Keiona Murphy said at the meeting. 

But MacIntyre voiced concerns about the cost of the clear backpacks as well as students’ “rights and autonomy.” Further, she questioned whether clear backpacks would indeed improve school safety. 

“We could spend the money in a much better way,” MacIntyre said. “I think the idea is well-meaning, but … I think that we’re basing this on emotions and not on evidence-based research, like is there any evidence-based research that would show that clear backpacks are a deterrent to bringing in weapons?”

With respect to cost, Luna said the clear backpack purchase amounts to much less than 1% of the district’s overall allocation of ESSER funding. In any case, he noted, “there’s no price tag on the life of a student.” 

When asked about potential next steps, Luna told Flint Beat that the Board could vote to rescind Wednesday’s decision at a later date and revisit whether or not to authorize the clear backpack policy.

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...

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