Clayton County students head to school with clear book bags, first day smiles

Pre-Kindergarten student Gregory Samuel III gets one last hug from his mother Shemeca Samuel during the first day of school for Clayton County Public Schools at Anderson Elementary School on Wednesday. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Pre-Kindergarten student Gregory Samuel III gets one last hug from his mother Shemeca Samuel during the first day of school for Clayton County Public Schools at Anderson Elementary School on Wednesday. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Shemeca Samuel was on the verge of tears when her son Gregory went through the doors of Anderson Elementary School in Clayton County on Wednesday.

The 4-year-old pre-K student happily walked in with teacher Karen Buchannan as his mother stood by the car trying to get one last glimpse of him.

“I was told that I can’t cry until we leave because they can feel the energy,” Shemeca Samuel said as tried to steel her composure as the door closed behind Gregory.

Wednesday was the first day of school for students in Clayton and Henry counties and for the youngest students in Gwinnett, the state’s largest school system. (The remaining Gwinnett grades will begin class Thursday).

Other big metro area districts, such as Atlanta Public Schools and Cherokee, Cobb and Rockdale counties, began Monday. Fayette opens its doors for the 2022-2023 academic year on Thursday while DeKalb and Fulton students return to school next week.

Many of the students who came to Anderson on Wednesday had a new accessory: a clear backpack. The 52,000-student district mandated the transparent book bags in early July as a safety measure after almost 100 weapons were brought to campus last year.

“We are trying to have a little bit more control so we can protect the environment,” Clayton County Superintendent Morcease Beasley, who helped greet Anderson students and their parents and guardians Wednesday, said of the mandate.

He said students may still find ways to bring weapons on campus, but thinks the clear book bags will reduce the overall numbers.

“It will be interesting to see when I get through the first month of school how many weapons we’ve had this year compared to the weapons we had in the first month last year,” he said. “The first month is going to show me if we’re making a difference.”

Anderson Principal Tonia Luttery said the school, which has about 470 students, had 400 clear backpacks on hand to give to students whose parents didn’t buy bags or were not aware of the new requirement.

“I think this is a great initiative that we’re trying to do,” she said. “It will help with the safety of our kids.”

Siblings Bella Williams, 10, a fifth grader, and Alexander Williams, 9, a fourth grader, were among the first children to school. They sported semi-clear backpacks. The back of the accessory was clear, but the sides were not.

The Williams’ book bags were given to them by the district at the end of last year before the new mandate was in place, said their mother Anca Williams, a special education teacher at the school. The backpacks were for summer reading books.

Bella said she was ready for the new year and looked forward to getting good grades and test scores while her brother was enthused to learn about history.

When asked what he was looking forward to, Alexander was succinct: “Learning and recess,” he said.