Faculty bid seen as too drastic, board unanimous
Despite a strong plea from the high school faculty to ban backpacks in the classroom, the Storm Lake Board of Education voted unanimously this week against a ban.
After hearing testimonials at Wednesday's School Board meeting from five members of the SLHS faculty that included physical demonstrations, the board voted to approve policy handbooks for the 2002-03 school year without the ban.
They did leave the door open for more discussion on security and other issues.
"Faculty members did bring up significant issues and concerns regarding backpacks that need to be resolved, but banning seemed a little drastic," said School Board president Dr. Mark Schultz. "The board's whole logic was in the over-riding fact that we can try to resolve this without an immediate ban."
The proposed ban surfaced toward the end of the 2001-2002 school year, when the SLHS faculty reportedly voted unanimously at a staff meeting to ban all backpacks, knapsacks and purses during the regular school day. The faculty cited reasons such as classroom clutter, preventative safety measures and physical stress and back pain brought onto students by the weight of the backpacks. With the proposed ban, students would be allowed to enter and leave the building with their backpacks, but must stow them in lockers through the duration of the day. The Storm Lake Police schools officer backed the ban as a way to prevent the potential of weapons or guns being brought into a building.
A student leader has argued that there is no security problem at the local school, and that banning the bags would amount to taking away a privilege.
SLHS faculty member Don Parkhurst spoke to the board in favor of the proposed ban.
"Safety's not a big deal for me. In fact, I feel safer here than in smaller schools I've taught in," Parkhurst said. "It's the lack of organization that bothers me.
With kids cramming everything into their bag and not prioritizing, I guess I really don't want their lockers in my room."
Parkhurst said that despite the ban's failure to pass the school board vote, the issue was hopefully a learning experience for all involved.
"If this helps to bring the issue of organization and clutter to the surface, then it's been good, and I'd like to see the kids involved in the debate as well." he said.
Faculty member Marcella Koth said that despite the faculty's campaign, the board's decision was somewhat expected. "Naturally we were disappointed, as anyone is when they encourage someone to institute a policy that doesn't go through," Koth said. "But we weren't surprised with the decision."
Koth said that faculty members are now left to find other solutions to the problems they feel are created by backpacks.
"We will find alternative ways to deal with them in the classroom," Koth said. "We have no other choice than to find a way to work with it."
In voting against the ban, the board offered the SLHS faculty possible solutions for problems caused by backpacks, as opposed to a strict ban.
"The most compelling issue that is serious and needs to be addressed is the issue of clutter," said Board member Peter Steinfeld. "I understand and appreciate a teacher's need to move around in the classroom, but there's a possibility of limiting a backpack's size without banning them altogether."
Steinfeld said that school policy presently states that the school administration has the right to limit the size of a backpack, and that implementing or even experimenting with the rule may be a good idea, as well as proactive discussion regarding the issue.
"Teachers' voices are important, but the issue came so late in the year that there wasn't enough time for discussions, especially with students," Steinfeld said. "One needs to think of alternatives and try intermediary things before going to the most extreme form of banning something."