The Lafayette Parish School System will have tighter restrictions on bags carried on school campuses by students and visitors after the school board passed new regulations for backpacks and lunch boxes during a 6-2 vote on Wednesday.
While clear or mesh backpacks have been required for middle and high school students for years, LPSS will now require all elementary students to comply as well. It is recommended for the upcoming school year; however, elementary students will not be required to comply until the 2023-24 school year.
Lunch bags, purses and/or purses that measure more than 9 inches by 6 inches by 5 inches must also be transparent. The new restrictions do not apply to gym bags used by athletes and band members, as school officials say they are often stored in a secure location throughout the day.
“Enforcing this is going to be up to school staff,” said Julia Reed of the Louisiana Association of Educators. “We are asked to monitor the bodies of our students. The dress code is head to toe at this point. Every element of their body is subject to some kind of regulation – shoes, hat bag, lunch bag, handbag. One of the things they push in education is building relationships with students. If we constantly have to control their body, what they wear and what they have on them, it can interfere with establishing a relationship with the student. … We’re just concerned about its application.
Requiring lunch bags to be clear was to be a hot topic at the meeting, and parents showed up in droves after many spoke out via social media after reading the proposed changes to the student handbook. However, an amendment from board members that changed the wording to include bag size specifications, appeared to allay many concerns.
Not all parents were happy with the changed rule.
Rachel Mouton, a mother of two, wondered if the new rule would really make children safer. She also said it could be a financial burden on parents.
“First of all, where is the data to support the fact that this is going to make students safer,” she asked the council during a public comment period. “Because everything should be data-driven, just like in the classroom for teachers and students. Everything has to be data-driven. So I’d like to see where the data is that proves that this is going to make our safer students.
Board member Kate Bailey Labue said the new bag rules were aimed at keeping bags to a reasonable size.
“If your school bag doesn’t measure exactly those dimensions, I don’t think it will automatically be deleted or the child won’t have a problem with that,” she said. Administrators don’t want “people to bring these big lunch boxes as a way to conceal things, maybe they don’t need to conceal or bring extraneous things to campus that are harmless but are just another distraction to take away”.
Board vice-chairman Britt Latiolais acknowledged public concern over the changes, but ultimately “he wants the children to come home safely,” he said.
“Speaking with Sheriff Garber, they are in favor of using the clear bags,” Latiolais said. “It does not make their job easier. It adds an extra layer of protection. We may never know if it works, but we have to be proactive. We need to take a stand because the minute something happens at a school and it comes out of a bag of books with Spiderman on it, someone’s going to be on Facebook to find out why we didn’t have a clear policy on the bags. . … I will always vote for safety.