Families search for clear backpacks for new county school policy

Published 5:27 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

With July nearing the mid-point and county schools set to return to class in just a month, families are beginning their back-to-school shopping, but one item on many students’ supply list is proving difficult for some to find.

In April, the Carter County School Board approved an update to the school system’s student dress code that included a new requirement regarding backpacks. Under the new policy, all student backpacks are required to be either clear or mesh as part of a safety measure for the school system.

The policy change was approved by the Board with the Board voting to waive a second reading on the policy so it could be implemented for the 2018-19 school year.

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Carter County Board of Education Chairman Rusty Barnett told the Elizabethton Star on Wednesday the Board expedited the policy change as a way to help improve the safety of school facilities in response to school shooting incidents.

“It’s all about safety,” Barnett said. “I have supported this since the beginning because we have to do something to protect the students and our staff.”

While making a change to require clear or mesh backpacks may seem like a small change to some individuals, or an aggravation to others, Barnett said small steps add up to improved safety.

“I think we should do anything we can to protect our children and our faculty,” Barnett said. “I think this will also help a lot of parents to feel better about the safety of their children and our schools.”

Carter County Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward echoed the words from Barnett that safety was the driving factor behind the policy change.

“It is a proactive measure for safety. The policy is strictly based on improving safety,” Ward said. “A lot of times when it comes to policy, those policies are not always convenient but they are in the best interest of students and faculty.”

“Every time you hear of one of the school shootings, every school system and every administrator begins to think ‘How can we be more proactive? What more can we do,” Ward said. “When it comes to safety, I don’t think of it as inconvenient, I think of it as being proactive.”

There have been some questions since the policy was approved as to what all is covered by the policy. Some parents have asked if the clear rule extends to items such as lunch boxes or pencil boxes. Ward said those items are not covered under the policy change.

“The only thing the policy addresses is clear or mesh backpacks,” Ward said. “It was part of changes to the student dress code policy.”

Students will not be allowed to bring backpacks that do not comply with the new policy to school.

“If a student comes in without a clear or mesh backpack, the backpack will be taken and the parent will have to come pick it up and the student will not be allowed to return to school with it,” Ward said. “This policy will be enforced.”

In recent weeks, the Elizabethton Star has received calls and questions from residents stating they cannot find any clear or mesh backpacks for sale locally, and asking where they can find these items so their children are in compliance with the new policy.

Ward said the school system has also received complaints from parents and guardians who have been unable to find a clear or mesh backpack to purchase for their student.

Each year, Harmony Freewill Baptist Church holds its Back To School Bash for students, and Ward said this year the church will have clear or mesh backpacks available for the students.

Harmony Freewill Baptist Church Pastor Brandon Young confirmed that the church was able to obtain around 1,300 clear or mesh backpacks to give out to children.

The Back To School Bash will be held on Saturday, July 28, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Harmony Freewill Baptist Church, located on Gap Creek Road in Hampton. The event is free to the public.

For those seeking to purchase a clear or mesh backpack, the Elizabethton Walmart does not currently have any in stock, but store officials confirmed the store is expecting a shipment of clear and mesh backpacks on July 21.

For more tech-savvy shoppers, several online retailers are offering clear and mesh backpacks online, including Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Amazon, and Staples.