My 12 year old son, Levi, will be starting middle school in August at a brand new public school. We’re all excited and nervous and trying to figure out how life operates in this totally unknown environment. Up till now, he’s been highly sheltered by our local private Jewish day school.
There’s a steep learning curve here and I admit it is causing us some anxiety. LIke the other day, for instance, he was perusing the district web site and confronted me in a panic.
“Mom,” he voiced fearfully, “It says on the website that kids are prohibited from carrying backpacks on campus.”
“Levi,” I responded with a doubtful glance, “That’s ridiculous. I’m sure you didn’t read it accurately. I mean, how are you supposed to carry your stuff to school? Picnic basket?”
He assured me that what he had seen had been real and urged me to call the district office to confirm it. His anxiety was growing and I figured that calling the office was the perfect way to allay his concerns. “Hello,” I started to the kindly woman who answered the phone, “I’m a parent of a new student who will be coming to your school in the fall and my son saw something on your website about backpacks not being allowed on campus. I know that sounds rather crazy. So I just wanted to check and make sure that he misunderstood whatever he thought he read.”
“Um…I’m not really sure what to tell you,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “Can you hold for a moment?” Then she disappeared for like three minutes and I waited, wondering if she was using the same trick my insurance company uses every time I call to check on a benefit. I like to call it the “indefinite hold tactic.” It’s when certain organizations systematically put you on hold forever, knowing you’ll eventually get so frustrated you’ll hang up and decide it’s easier to just pay whatever remaining balance they insist you still have, even though you’ve already paid them three times already. But I digress.
Finally she returned, “The backpack rule is a campus by campus decision and I’m afraid no one at the district can give you the backpack requirements for an individual school. You’ll have to wait till the school reopens for the school year to call and inquire about it.”
“But…I mean…Are you saying there may be some rule against students carrying backpacks?” I’m stammering at this point because this sounds as silly to me as if she told me that number 2 pencils were being outlawed.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to call the school after July 22nd,” she curtly ended the conversation.
Baffled by this, I started to do some research and found that yes, backpacks have been items-non-grata at schools across the country for over a decade. Huh?
I found articles as far back as 2003 explaining the dangers of backpacks containing concealed weapons, drug paraphernalia, even bombs. The answer to some lunatic potentially stuffing a bomb into a backpack? No more backpacks. Maybe it’s me, but that sounds like the most inane answer to school violence and drug abuse that I have ever heard.
But that wasn’t all I discovered. There were other equally lame reasons for prohibiting the dreaded back carriers. The Academy of Orthopedic surgeons had come out with some declaration a few years back about the risks of long-term back and neck injuries and posture problems from kids hauling around overweight backpacks.
Other schools had outlawed backpacks because, and I’m not making this up, they proved to be dangerous threats to teacher safety both inside the classroom and in the corridors of learning. Apparently, teachers find themselves tripping over backpack straps on a regular basis during the school day. They also complain that they have been severely injured in the hallways by backpack-clad youngsters racing from one class to the next.
OK, now I am deeply sensitive to teachers’ needs. Teachers deserve all the credit, gratitude and respect we can give. Their jobs are important and critical to our society. However, this is a little bit silly, don’t you think? I mean, are they sashaying down the aisles between desks while reviewing the Spanish American War? Tap dancing around the classroom as they pose thought-provoking questions about Odysseus? Kids can’t carry backpacks because teachers are tripping over them en masse? Maybe we need to have an in-service day focused on cautious strolling protocol.
And one more question: in what, pray tell, are our children supposed to carry their personal items, notebooks and other school supplies? Hefty trash bags? One girl somewhere out East faced this very dilemma and started carting her load around in a plastic, yellow sand castle pail. Come on! We have got to get a grip. Yes, someone hid a pressure cooker in a backpack and murdered innocent victims. That’s deplorable and hideous. But banning backpacks wouldn’t have stopped the Boston bombings. Believe me, they would have found another way to hurt people. That’s what evil people do. They figure out ways to destroy and ruin good, unsuspecting people’s lives. We need to address evil, not the outward accoutrements of it.
We didn’t ban underwear after the underwear bomber tried to blow up an airplane. We can’t outlaw every single item that some sick, twisted cretan uses to accomplish some heinous activity. We just can’t. It would be like…like…like…trying to eliminate peanuts from every elementary school in the country. Oh wait, we have done that.