Backpacks in Class

By Randall McGee

Today schools frequently discuss the issue of allowing backpacks in class, and even in school. This issue goes back and forth, with both sides making arguments and discussing solutions. This issue reaches out to nearly every school district, and is something that must be addressed.

There are many valid reasons for not wanting backpacks in schools, if you believe worried soccer moms and lazy school administrations that don’t care enough to find a real solution. Some common arguments are that backpacks are used to bring drugs, guns, and other unsavory objects into the school unchecked. Other arguments include backpacks being fire hazards or the more ridiculous argument of teachers tripping over backpacks in class.

To address the pros, they are that backpacks help with organization, help to carry things around easier, and help students arrive to class on time. This is all just convenience for the student, but convenience for the student to have better resources to learn and attend school, which should be the primary priority of the school system.

The cons, if taken at face value, outway the pros by far. Better security? Less drugs? No illegal objects in school? Where do I sign up? But the stopping of illegal substances/objects in school isn’t a simple matter of saying you can’t have backpacks in class.

Many, if not most, students have extracurricular activities after school ends. This may be a job, a sport, or a club. Whatever the activity, students most likely require a bag for it. As someone who works after school, I can say that if I didn’t have a backpack, there's no way I could get out of school and to work on time. Trying to carry binders, books, a chromebook, a charger, and whatever else I need to take home would be a struggle to say the least. Students that have sports after school have to take certain things to practice. For soccer, students must bring shin guards, cleats, and a change of clothing from school clothes to sports clothing. Many sports are fairly similar, in baseball they bring bats, in hockey they bring sticks, etcetera. Whichever the sport, a change of clothing brought from home is required. This means the students must bring a bag to the school, full of clothes, equipment, and other objects.

Although I am aware that saying that banning backpacks doesn’t stop students from getting contraband into the school isn’t the most uplifting argument, it is the truth. There is no true way of stopping all contraband from entering the schools. It’s a dismal situation, but the best way to prevent this would be to work to better student mental health and living conditions. Students should simply not feel the need to bring illegal contraband onto school grounds in the first place, and the schools have a responsibility to work towards that.

The other arguments against backpacks in class is that they may be a fire hazard and that the teacher or students may trip over them. To be frank, any adult who has been walking in public areas for years of their life has to be the most oblivious or clumsy person in the school to be consistently tripping over backpacks in class. Any time that people are present, there is a possibility of objects being on the ground that have the potential to trip someone. The lapse in judgement, perception, or coordination that it would take to not know that is extraordinary, and shouldn’t even be considered a factor in this issue.

The argument that backpacks can be a fire hazard is actually a moderately valid point. With multiple large backpacks sitting sitting in the floor of an aisle of desks could very possibly hinder the progress of students attempting to leave in the case of a fire or other threat to safety. This is a reasonable threat to students, but an easily solvable one. Students could simply be told to put their backpacks below their desks in the event of an emergency to make way for other students. Other solutions are students putting their backpacks out of the way in a part of the room, or having backpacks small enough to put in front of or underneath desks for the duration of class.

In our own school, James River High School, backpacks are allowed in the school but not into classes. To find out why that might be, I interviewed our librarian and long time James River employee James McLeese. According to McLeese, backpacks were not always banned at this school. McLeese estimates that they were banned about 4 or 5 years ago. According to McLeese, the reason as to why they were banned is the possible fire hazard they could pose. As to his personal opinion, McLeese says he never really minded having backpacks in class, but that the rules are the rules.