Dallas ISD parents unclear on why clear backpacks are needed for pre-K and elementary students

By Lena Foster,
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July 21, 2023

Dallas News

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The backpack announcement can be seen on the DISD website.

Dallas ISD is requiring all students, including preschoolers as young as 3-year-olds, to carry a clear backpack as part of the district’s “ongoing effort to ensure safer schools.”

Last year, the district required middle and high school students to carry clear backpacks. Early this summer, DISD announced this policy would expand to all grades. Mesh backpacks are acceptable, according to the district’s press release, but clear backpacks are preferred. Students also are allowed to carry a small non-clear pouch for personal items.

“A clear backpack policy alone does not ensure complete security,” the district acknowledges in its announcement. “This proactive measure is just one of several updates to enhance student and campus safety.”

Dallas ISD rolled out the clear backpack policy at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, based on recommendations from the district’s two safety task forces, made up of principals, teachers, security professionals, parents, students and community members. Parents can purchase backpacks for their children, but the district plans to distribute what they describe as “a durable clear backpack” free of charge.

Dallas Free Press texted our South Dallas and West Dallas readers about their experiences with clear backpacks. Several parents complained about the poor quality of the bags the district provided last year, saying they had to replace them multiple times during the school year.

South Dallas parent Carneshia Oliver has three children who W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy and Charles Rice Learning Center. Oliver supports having see-through bags to ensure nothing harmful enters the school. However, she, like many other parents, was unhappy about the quality of the backpacks. 

“The materials are pretty cheap,” she says. “So, it’s expensive to have to keep buying them over and over again.” 

Salina McGee-Jones agrees. Her daughter was an eighth grader at Greiner last year, and McGee-Jones says she had to replace her daughter’s bag three times during the school year.

“The straps kept breaking and the clear plastic was tearing from the bottom,” McGee-Jones says. “The ones they issued to the students from the school are not reliable.”

We reached out to Dallas ISD with these concerns. 

“We did receive feedback and have purchased a much more durable bag this year with heavy duty clear material, extra strength stitching, double padded adjustable straps and high-quality zipper pulls,” district spokesperson Nina Lakhiani said in an email.

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Though Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde briefed the nine elected Dallas ISD trustees on new security measures in summer 2022, the trustees did not vote on the policy. Their only vote regarding clear backpacks was a $5 million budget increase to pay for the backpacks. Lakhiani says the district spent $1.3 million last year on backpacks for students. 

Children receive clear backpacks from distribute by MetroPCS at the Mayor’s Back to School Fair in 2011. Photo by DISD

Some parents find the “investment” in clear backpacks unnecessary. They would prefer to see the money spent in other ways.  

“I understand the premise behind it,” says LaDerica McNairy, whose son also attends Greiner, “but I think that it would be better to have other additional resources at the school, like emotional regulation, training or conflict-resolution training.”

“Cause if you look at it, clear bags didn’t just start. I had to have a mesh backpack in high school myself,” says McNairy, a Justin F. Kimball High School alumnus, “and that was like 15 years ago.” 

McNairy’s son had to go through bag checks and metal detectors at Greiner both before and after the clear bag policy, which led McNairy to question the policy’s relevance, especially considering the expense of clear backpacks.

“So, there’s tons of security measures. But if you’re gonna go through all of this anyway, then what’s the point of a clear backpack if you have to search my backpack physically, anyway?” McNairy asks.

DISD’s Lakhiani says last year’s policy of transparent bags “allowed for easy inspection of contents and reduced the potential of prohibited items entering a school.” She also mentioned that the process of entering school became more efficient.

McNairy also wants to know why the focus is on students as potential threats instead of people coming onto campus who are not students or faculty. 

“It doesn’t address the fact that the students are not necessarily the ones who are enacting these acts of violence,” McNairy says. 

March For Our Lives is a national grassroots advocacy organization founded by students that works to end gun violence in schools. Saanvi Mukkara serves as president of the Greater Dallas chapter and leads students in meeting with community and City Council members, fundraising for various efforts, and holding rallies and demonstrations to mobilize citizens.

Mukkara recognizes the level of comfort that the clear bag policy provides for the community, but she describes clear backpacks as “performative security measures.” 

“It will do little to nothing for the movement at hand and actually ensure community stability,” Mukkara told us via email. “We need to look for solutions that are long-lasting and impactful: like comprehensive background checks, better safe storage knowledge, security, and enforcement, limiting access to weapons of war, and overall, simply holding our policymakers accountable so they can serve the needs of their citizens.”

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Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde speaks at a press conference to discuss the school district’s efforts to increase safety and security at school campuses on August 2, 2022. DISD Chief of Police, John Lawton, also spoke at the conference. Photo by DISD

The clear backpack policy was introduced in Dallas ISD schools shortly after Texas public schools’ deadliest mass shooting that took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where, on May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old killed 19 children and two teachers. Schools throughout Texas responded with increased safety measures — everything from installing bullet-resistant film in doors and entryways to more cameras and consistent door checks to regular police patrols at middle and high schools.

Back to School Backpack Distribution Events

Events in South Dallas:

  • The 27th Annual Dallas Mayor’s Back to School Fair: Students need to live in Dallas or attend a Dallas ISD school to receive essential school supplies. You must provide proof of Dallas residency and verification of household income, which would need to be equal to or less than the 2023 Federal Poverty Guidelines. Families would need to register at the event website.
    Date and Time: Friday, August 4 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Location: Automobile Building and Centennial Hall at Fair Park
  • The Theta Alpha Chapter’s Annual School Supply Giveaway: School supplies, backpacks, free haircuts and food will be distributed for students attending Dallas ISD schools in the 75215 zip code. Sign up to receive a free haircut and school supplies.
    Date and Time: Saturday, August 5 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    Location: Theta Alpha Foundation House
  • The Back to School Youth Enrichment Pop-Up: The first 100 students attending will receive a free backpack with school supplies. There will also be vendors, food trucks, haircuts, and hair braiding for ages 4-12. For more information, contact Lashell Ricks at 214-815-7805.
    Date and Time: Saturday, August 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Location: Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church
  • The 2nd Annual Backpack Giveaway: All students will receive a free backpack and school supplies. Supplies are limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. There will also be food, exercise games, giveaways and other fun activities.
    Date and Time: Saturday, August 5 from noon at 2 p.m.
    Location: MLK, Jr. Recreation Center
  • The MLK Back to School Festival: Students in Pre-K through 12th grade will receive a free clear backpack stuffed with school supplies. All 1,000 clear backpacks will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Children must be in-person to receive items.
    Date and Time: Saturday, August 12 starting at 9 a.m
    Location: MLK, Jr. Recreation Center
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Events in West Dallas:

  • The 27th Annual Dallas Mayor’s Back to School Fair: Students need to live in Dallas or attend a Dallas ISD school to receive school supplies. You must provide proof of Dallas residency and verification of household income, which would need to be equal to or less than the 2023 Federal Poverty Guidelines. Families would need to register at the event website.
    Date and Time: Friday, August 4 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Location: Automobile Building and Centennial Hall at Fair Park
  • The 3rd Annual Ledbetter West Dallas Back 2 School Bash: Register to receive a backpack and school supplies. There will also be free food and haircuts for neighbors. Extra backpacks and school supplies will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Students within 75212 and 75211 zip codes will be given first priority.
    Date and Time: Saturday, August 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Location: Jaycee Recreation Center

A DISD superintendent report from August 2022 prioritized annual safety checks and inspections, random campus visits, metal detector installations in multi-level schools, 100 hand-held metal detectors in elementary schools, campus staff training, iPads for monitoring high schools and active shooter training with Dallas Police Department. We are waiting for a response from Dallas ISD to see how many of these safety protocols have been implemented. 

As McNairy points out, it’s nothing new for school officials to respond to the threat of gun violence with clear backpacks. A 2019 Bloomberg piece explores the history of school shootings and clear backpacks since the 1998 Columbine tragedy, with no decisive data or conclusion of whether they keep students safer. 

A 2022 Austin American-Statesman piece also notes that such policies are “largely driven by emotion rather than evidence.” Right after a Dallas safety task force with parents and community members recommended clear backpacks; Austin decided against them because “parents didn’t think they were necessary.”

“It also boils down to the fact that clear bags are a half-hearted attempt to avoid looking at the true issue at hand: gun access,” Mukkara wrote.

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