Flint, MI—About a month since the Flint Board of Education rejected a policy requiring all students to carry clear backpacks, some members of Flint Schools have weighed in on the district’s proposal through a survey.
In a Flint Community Schools (FCS) survey, 75.5% of teachers, staff or administrators and 52.7% of parents or guardians said they would support the proposed policy if Flint Schools provided the clear backpacks for free, with 18.8% of students backing the mandate.
“Our staff wants clear backpacks,” said Kevelin Jones, the district’s superintendent. “That’s my main takeaway.”
Overall, 53 FCS staff, 74 parents or guardians and 16 students responded to the question of whether they would support the rule, and Jones recognized that the participation numbers were low. The district has roughly 2,950 students and more than 800 staff, according to Jones.
“This survey was distributed to all parents and guardians and promoted to our other stakeholders – including scholars of all ages,” Jones said in a follow up statement.
In February 2023, the Board of Education rejected the proposed mandate by a vote of 4-3, with dissenting board members citing the need for input from stakeholders among their reasons for voting it down.
Jones previously said that his leadership team began discussions about the clear backpack rule following the 2021 Oxford High School Shooting in Oxford Township, Mich. The administration then brought forth the proposal to the Board in January this year after a telephone threat was made against the Accelerated Learning Academy.
Surveyed staff members who support the policy see it as another tool to improve school safety, and that implementing the rule across the board is key, according to written responses from the survey.
“Looking at it from an employee perspective, I would love to see every student carry a clear backpack for safety reasons,” one staff member wrote. “While it may not solve every safety issue, it will definitely help.”
Given there are no metal detectors at the district’s elementary schools, clear backpacks would help with increasing safety, another staff member wrote.
The results of the survey, which ran from late February through mid-March, came as expected for Board President Michael Clack.
“We could have pretty much predicted the results: that the students were going to be against the backpacks, the staff was going to be in favor of the backpacks and the parents are going to be somewhere in between,” Clack said.
But Clack added that it’s difficult to gauge the overall stances of various groups from the survey due to low turnout.
At this point, Clack believes it’s best to move on and focus on all the other issues the district is facing. Nonetheless, Clack said he remains in support of the clear backpack rule, reiterating his stance when he voted in favor of the policy in February.
“I just saw that the clear backpacks could have been an additional safety measure to the school liaison officers, security guards, the metal detectors and things of that sort,” Clack said.
Meanwhile, among the surveyed staff members who opposed the policy, one of them said the rule should be implemented depending on the school.
“[S]ome schools who serve older children may feel the need to have clear backpacks and others which have lower grades only may not feel there is a need for that as a safety concern (at my school I do not feel it is a need),” the staff member wrote.
In any case, Board Trustee Joyce Ellis-McNeal, who voted against the policy, said clear backpacks wouldn’t keep schools safe from shooters. She further said in a text that the survey “does not represent the community.”
Trustee Melody Relerford noted that clear backpacks would single out Flint Schools students in the public, and that could increase their chances of getting robbed.
“Going through town with a clear backpack where everyone can see what’s in your backpack makes you a target,” Relerford said.
Plus, students aren’t the only people entering school buildings, and there is a lack of evidence showing the effectiveness of clear backpacks in improving school safety, she explained.
Relerford voted against the policy back in February, and she said this week that “I will never vote for students to have clear backpacks.”
Surveyed students and parents or guardians who are against transparent backpacks also expressed concerns about privacy. As one of them in the latter group wrote in the survey, “Some students have personal items being carried such as female items that don’t need to be exposed.”
One solution could involve offering feminine hygiene products inside schools’ bathrooms, according to a respondent in the parent or guardian group who supports the clear backpack rule.
Board Treasurer Dylan Luna, who voted for the transparent backpack policy, acknowledged privacy concerns and noted that there are ways for the administration to address these matters.
All in all, Luna said “it’s the right choice” to approve the rule.
Moving forward, Jones said the Board could hold further discussions about the policy, change their previous vote or let the proposed rule rejection stand.
Honestly Mr Chan. What a misleading headline. It should say that most of the 53 staff responding support this initiative, but that significantly less than 10% responded. Only 16 of roughly 3000 students cared enough to respond. The very low response rate show that most staffers and students just don’t care or think its beside the point. Why don’t you work to improve our deplorable schools and school board, Orwellian Superintendent Jones, and leave the fearmongering at home? (Orwell famously wrote that black is white and up is down.) What about privacy? You might as well ask the students to come to school naked. Do you think boys and girls want others to see their tampons or dirty gym clothes?
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