Clayton teachers, parents react to school bookbag, locker ban

Clayton County schools ban backpacks due to rising number of weapons

Clayton County schools ban backpacks due to rising number of weapons

Clayton County parents and educators on Thursday mostly praised a plan to ban the use of bookbags and lockers for the remainder of the school year to keep guns out of schools in the south metro Atlanta community.

But they said it is not a panacea for the problem.

The district needs to switch to clear backpacks, require students to wear badges with their names and pictures on them and do more to alert the public when a gun or other weapon is brought into school, those contacted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said.

“Our schools are a reflection of society and there’s an uptick in violence in our society as a whole,” said Attania Jean-Funny, a middle school teacher in the district whose two children are learning virtually this year. “We can’t expect the schools to be any different. The students come from the community, so they’re going to bring it into the building.”

Superintendent Morcease Beasley earlier this week announced that because of a spike in weapons making their way into buildings, middle school and high school students will have to carry educational tools — laptops, books and pens — by hand beginning Monday.

The decision comes as schools across Atlanta struggle to address disciplinary issues that are either surging or getting more violent than in years past. Henry County, for instance, said recently that overall numbers of disciplinary incidents have fallen, but that the disputes that do occur are more intense. Fulton County reported a surge in students bringing weapons to school in 2021-2022 compared to past academic years and more fights in hallways and cafeterias.

Rockdale Schools last week said it would require clear bookbags in all buildings and plans to install cameras in every classrooms as part of the east metro Atlanta county’s plans to improve safety in facilities.

Asia Thompson, a mother of an 11-year-old Clayton middle school student, said she was not surprised by the district’s locker and bookbag restrictions. School discipline, which is a problem most of the year, heightens as the second semester winds down, she said.

“End of the school year, kids just get wild,” she said, adding that she has told her daughter to hold onto her phone — even if the teacher wants to take it — just in case things get out of hand.

Not everyone supports the restrictions. Brenda Harrison, whose granddaughters graduated from Jonesboro High School in 2019, said the moves were too extreme and should have been pushed only if other options, such as clear bookbags, had been tried first.

“I understand all the reasonings,” she said, “but there just had to be a better way.”

Miyeca Smoot, president of the Clayton County Educators Association, said the ban is a good step for now, but the discussion should really be about what happens next year. The issue is not going to disappear because of time off, so the district should look at carrying over any solutions it determines work into the next academic year.

She also said leaders need to be more forthcoming with the community on issues as they come up, especially if students are bringing guns in schools.

“We need to get ahead of it and be more proactive than reactive,” she said. “And parents need to monitor their children’s social media because most times that’s where the communications happen first. We get the fallout in the schools, but the problems usually have been already been brewing off campus.”