Flint, MI—The Flint Community Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to ban backpacks at all district schools for the remainder of the school year at a special meeting on April 25, 2023.
The ban comes after a threat made at Accelerated Learning Academy in January, which prompted consideration of a clear backpack-only policy, and now another at Southwestern Classical Academy made just last week.
The latter closed Southwestern for two days, though the nature of the threat has not yet been clarified by FCS officials.
“A student recently made a video about a week and a half ago and then another student sent an email,” FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones told the Board. “Without going into a lot of detail, it’s brought some safety concerns.”
The concerns were enough to prompt both Ernest Steward, Director of Student Services and Enrollment, and Kelly Fields, principal of Accelerated Learning Academy, to come before the Board to ask for a full backpack ban across the school district.
“In my 15 years of service here at Flint Community Schools, I’ve never felt the way I do now,” Steward said. “We’ve had multiple incidents this year, and I think by eliminating the backpack, at least for the remainder of this school year, we’ll reduce at least some of those incidents of bringing weapons into the building.”
Steward noted this wouldn’t be the first time the district banned backpacks in an effort to keep its student body safe, pointing to a ban being in place when he began work with the district in 2007.
Fields echoed Steward’s comments and added that she knew they were asking for a difficult, but necessary, decision.
“Sometimes we, when we take care of people, we make decisions for them that are not always easy to make and not always favorable to the—to that of which we are in charge of,” she said. “And sometimes love looks like removing some things.”
Steward explained that the increased security checks of students’ backpacks since Southwestern reopened on Monday, April 24, has already caused scholars to lose class time.
“We still were 10 minutes late getting kids to class just ensuring that backpacks were being checked,” he said.
Steward added that those 10 minutes will continue to compound lost class time and could even cause the district to become noncompliant with state-mandated 1,098 hours of instruction per school year.
Board Vice President Terae King asked about exact language for implementation, noting that many student athletes need to carry items for their sport, or students may need to carry work or books home with them.
“You always have folders that you can send papers home with students,” Stewart responded, adding that athletes could potentially still bring bags but those bags would be checked and left in an office or other location where the student “would not have it” through the day.
After a bit more discussion, the Board voted unanimously to ban backpacks, districtwide, for the remainder of the school year effective Monday, May 1, 2023.
Steward said he would work with Jones and the district’s public relations firm to draft a letter to parents about the ban, and King suggested they also consider using Flint’s new alert app to further spread the word.
“We have the new alert system that can be used, the text messaging thing, if that’s okay? I just want to make sure that it’s clean, it’s understandable the whole way through,” King said.
Steward said he agreed that clear communication was needed and the district would begin conversations with students and parents through the remainder of this week.
Jones also promised the backpack ban notification would go onto the district’s website for the remainder of the year, though that notice had not yet been added as of press time.