Clear bookbags, tighter security lead to fewer weapons in Clayton Schools

Campus Security Officer Nanyamka Jones drives a golf carts to patrol the exterior of Jonesboro High School, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Jonesboro, Ga. Clayton County Public School purchased golf carts to patrol and secure the exterior of each campuses. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Campus Security Officer Nanyamka Jones drives a golf carts to patrol the exterior of Jonesboro High School, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Jonesboro, Ga. Clayton County Public School purchased golf carts to patrol and secure the exterior of each campuses. (Jason Getz /

When former Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley prohibited students from using bookbags and lockers at the end of school last year, the district was struggling to address weapons flooding school properties over several months.

Close to 100 knives, tasers, brass knuckles, BB guns and handguns — along with an AR-15 assault rifle — had been found in school buildings and on buses by the time the bookbag ban took effect in April 2022, according to an The Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation at the time.

That flood appears to have been reduced to a trickle, after a yearlong campaign that included switching to clear bookbags last fall, spending more than $5 million in new metal detectors and wands, and a pushing to get parents to lock up their guns.

The district of 52,000 students cut the number of weapons confiscated in half this academic year — to about 45, according to incident reports obtained by the AJC through an open records request.

No assault rifles were detected and no one has been killed on the district’s campuses.

Anderson Elementary School students wear mandatory clear bookbags as they walk to classrooms during the first day of school in Clayton County in August 2022. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

“It’s clear that the various decisions that we’ve made relative to bringing in the weapons detection system, doing wanding at elementary schools, clear bookbags and all have lent itself to significant reduction in weapons on our campus,” Interim Clayton Schools Superintendent Anthony Smith said.

“The staff was also more diligent, students were more informed about saying something if they see something, and taking more of an initiative in keeping the environment where they came to learn safe,” he added. “It was a combination of support from everybody.”

Interim Clayton County Superintendent Anthony Smith. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

Schools across the nation remain on alert for weapons as the nation’s mass shootings epidemic continues unabated with more than 200 incidents so far this year, according to the non-profit organization Gun Violence Archive.

And educational facilities continue to be a hotspot for the violence.

In March, three children and three adults were killed by an assailant at a private elementary school in Nashville. A gunman killed three students and wounded five others at a Michigan State University in February.

In Clayton, the number of weapons found on school property fell every month this year compared to the same period a year ago, except in January and February, the documents show.

In January of 2022, school leaders found five weapons, compared to the eight discovered in January 2023, according to the documents. Eleven weapons were confiscated in February 2022 while 12 were found in February of this year.

But while the numbers were overall smaller, the danger was still evident. For instance, in August school district officials seized two pellet guns, two handguns and a knife.

“Most of the weapons were on the students’ persons, not in their bookbags,” Smith said. “But the problem has been miniscule compared to what we were dealing with last year before we put these safeguards in place.”

Banned items were found at every age level, though most of the weapons were found on high school students. Elementary students were more likely to bring a knife to school than a gun, though one student brought a BB gun while another had a toy firearm.

Middle and high schoolers brought a mixture of weapons.

An arrest warrant was sworn out for the 40-year-old parent of an elementary student with a handgun in December, but the district did not provide further details to protect the identity of the child. A 17-year-old Forest Park High School student was arrested for possessing a knife and brass knuckles, according to documents. Most other students were suspended or received in-school detention.

Janet Edwards, a mother of a middle-schooler and a rising high schooler, said she hopes the district sticks with the clear bookbags and would support a ban on lockers if the numbers get out of hand again. The most effective tool, she said, would be better communication between parents and their children about weapons.

“It starts at home,” she said. “Parents have to be more proactive in checking their kids’ bookbag and jackets. Kids don’t understand the danger of weapons and the severity of trying to be cool with their friends and what that can actually lead to.”

That message has been central to a “Lock It Up Campaign,” a collaboration between the school district, Clayton County Police and the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office. The campaign gave away free gun safety locks to parents who attended a March meeting to promote safety awareness.

“We see a lot of our kids taking their parents guns, taking their lives or taking another child’s life,” Clayton District Attorney Tasha Mosley told attendees of the event. “So make sure, if you got one, don’t put it under the cushion, don’t put it under the bed, don’t put it in a drawer. Lock it up. Put it in a safe.”

School Resource Officer Tierre Roby drives a golf cart to patrol the exterior of Jackson Elementary School in early May. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Clayton Schools resource officers in late April began patrolling the district’s 60 campuses in golf carts as an extra layer of protection, Smith said. Central office employees also are being dispatched to schools to increase staff visibility on campus before the last day of school on May 24.

School board member Mary Baker said the district’s efforts are an acknowledgement that the increase in violent crimes — especially with guns — isn’t an issue just among adults. It’s with children, too.

“We can’t lose any of them,” she said at the March “Lock It Up” event.

Smith said the decline in weapons on campuses may be an improvement, but it is not a victory. It shows the message has not reached all students, he said.

In addition, the school system is dealing with an outbreak of fights that have made headlines in recent weeks and created new worries.

District officials are investigating videos that circulated in March of fights in a Rex Middle School classroom in which a teacher allegedly stood by and did nothing to stop the brawls. Smith said he could not discuss the matter further because it is a personnel issue.

“You always get an uptick in aggression with students toward the end of the school year,” he said. “Even though we’ve been pretty satisfied with the number of weapons that we’ve been able to prevent from coming on our campuses, we still have to deal with the physical aggression of students.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “We’re satisfied with the result, but we’re forging ahead to ensure that we put as many practices in place as necessary to make us completely safe.”