Clayton schools banning backpacks, lockers to address ‘spike’ in guns

Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley announces measures to stem gun violence in the district's classrooms and on its buses.

caption arrowCaption
Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley announces measures to stem gun violence in the district's classrooms and on its buses.

Beginning next week, Clayton County middle school and high school students won’t be allowed to bring bookbags on campus or use lockers to store books, laptops or personal items.

In an effort to stymie a “spike” in the number of guns being brought into school buildings and on buses, the south metro district says starting Monday students will be subject to random searches, see more police K-9 units in facilities, and expect to pass through metal detectors or be inspected with metal-detecting wands.

“As we have gone through the school year, in addition to, of course, experiencing all the successes that we’ve had, we find ourselves dealing with a challenge,” Superintendent Morcease Beasley said in a Tuesday YouTube Live announcement of the safety plans. “Most recently, we’ve seen a spike upward in the numbers of weapons, guns in particular, on our campuses.”

The new safety measures will remain in place until the end of the academic year, which is May 24.

The decision follows a surge in gun violence across the nation, including more than 50 homicides in Atlanta this year and murders in Clayton County rising 40% in 2021 over the year before.

On the schools front, the Atlanta Board of Education in late 2021 asked parents to store their weapons safely after a school shooting in Michigan. Last Friday, Rockdale County Schools officials said they will require students to carry clear backpacks next academic year as a safety measure.

“It should not be the case that a student gets into an altercation on a school bus and another student takes out a gun and hits them over the head,” Beasley said. “Shameful. But that is an incident that has happened in our school system.

“We love all our students,” he said. “But I love you enough to put you out of here if I have to.”

As part of the safety improvements, Clayton will also better spell out consequences if a student brings a gun or other weapon to school and inform parents about safety policies, among other measures, Beasley said.

Beasley said students have been bringing in a variety of weapons, including firearms and BB guns. He did not specify how many guns were brought onto campuses or if there have been expulsions or criminal referrals.

He also did not say how the weapons had been used other than the incident on the school bus.

“In order for students to learn at high levels ... they (must) feel like they’re safe, they’re secure,” he said.

This is not the district’s first time reporting troubling behavior among some students. A month into the 2020 school year as students were forced to stay home because of the then-new pandemic, the school system reported bullying, threats and the showing of pornographic material that resulted in school resource officers visiting homes.

The district will work with Clayton County police and law enforcement agencies in Forest Park, Morrow, Riverdale, Lake City, Lovejoy and Jonesboro in addressing the current problem of weapons in schools, he said.

The district also plans to tighten security on laptops issued by the school system, Beasley said. He cited online bullying as a starting point for a lot of issues being brought to campuses.

In addition, the district will buy new security equipment. Beasley admitted that some of the school system’s metal detectors and wands either don’t work or are in poor shape.

“I am concerned that it is just a matter of time before something happens because our society seems to be bent on continuing with violence and it’s spilling over into our schools,” he said.

Beasley said for parents who are concerned about how their children will transport their school supplies to class, he had a simple solution.

“They will carry them in their arms,” he said. “That’s the answer.”