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Students, parents voice opposition to bookbag, purse policy

Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Washington & Lee High School students will begin securing backpacks and personal items in lockers early next month, according to school officials.

Two weeks ago school officials informed the students of the proposals to prohibit bookbags and purses from classrooms and to not allow drinks or food in areas other than the cafeteria.

Rebecca Lowry, superintendent of schools, surrounded by students during the Sept. 19 meeting.

The pair of proposals had parents and students outraged, and last week, they raided a public hearing at Washington & Lee High School to voice their opposition.

This was only a proposal at the time, but it was enough to cause a trend of feedback on the Internet and in the community. Students voiced opposition to having to use lockers, citing a preference to carrying bookbags, and a lack of access for females to personal items. Some also claimed that electronic equipment in lockers is not safe, citing lockers’ inadequate size and number and some that have inoperable locks.

“Securing items in lockers will avoid potential thefts, prevent accidents and injuries as well as reduce discipline infractions,” school administrators said during their presentation.

However in response, students and parents echoed that “if someone wanted to get something in the school, they could do it,” pointing out that the smallest items could be entered into the school without a bookbag or purse.

“Whatever a child wants to bring, whether it’s a school bag or grocery bag if they determined, they are going to do it,” said parent Sharita Thompson.

Assistant principal Michael Hurdle said he understands this action will only minimize those potential threats.

“We never alluded to that fact that this one change would fix it, we wanted to see if it would curtail some of the occurrences that we were dealing with,” said Hurdle. “But by no means was this solution to fix it all and we knew that.”

Principal Andrea Roane and Hurdle said they agreed the size of bookbags and purses has increased over the years.

“It’s definitely a fashion trend,” Roane said, adding that a number of high schools are dealing with the same issue across the nation.

“What if my child has an anxiety attack?” asked parent Krystal Johnson, raising the concern of a potential emergency and her child’s inhaler is in a locker.

Also stirring up students and parents was how the proposal was announced. Students received notice of the proposals and parents were later notified by letter.

“I don’t know if I could say that I would have [changed the way it was introduced] because I’m looking at the timeliness of the issue,” Roane said. “Should parents be informed? True, but there are times in the administration when you don’t have time to consult with various stakeholding groups so you try to make those decisions and execute them quickly.”

“I didn’t think that a proposal would result in the reaction that we received,” Roane added.

Superintendent Rebecca Lowry said she was aware of what the administrators were working on, but she didn’t want to micromanage how information is disseminated.

“I didn’t know every little detail, but I don’t want to know every little detail because I trust the principals,” said Lowry.

In their presentation, school officials pointed out a number of reasons why these measures were taken. Based on their observations, backpacks, purses and athletic bags occupy much space in classrooms. Some classrooms are filled to capacity, and preventing those items will help with space and prevent students from injury, administrators said.

Administrators claim that backpacks have been used to harbor stolen items of students and have contributed to several discipline incidents involving a “look alike” weapon and drugs.

Hurdle and Roane also said they hope that the policies will reduce loitering in addition to thefts and accidents.

Some parents recommended placing hooks in the classroom, but both principals said that it would not be a viable option.

“Every room does not safe dimensions,” Hurdle said, adding that it could be a hazard depending on how they are configured.

The principals also mentioned that in most classes at the high school, books remain in the classroom. Moving forward, a $5 locker fee will be waived. There are a total of 750 lockers at W&L for a total of 476 students. Personal electronic equipment and athletic bags will be secured in an area of the main office and lockers and locks will be verified to ensure they are operational to prevent theft.

A small school bag will be provided to students so personal items such as keys or cell phones can be stored and carried to classes.

In their presentation to parents and students, W&L officials said: “It is not our goal to deprive students of their freedom, individuality, or expression. The administration of W&L is committed to ensuring that we provided a safe and secure learning environment for all of our students.”

Students who have paid for a locker will be refunded and others who have not received one will be assigned a locker.  Female students will be permitted to carry a small purse, and all students will be allowed to have a clear bottle of water only in their classes.

Implementation of the new practices will take place Oct. 8.