Backpack bans, sealed lockers latest efforts to keep schools safe

A New York high school is the latest in the nation to ban backpacks following several bomb threats, and has even taken extra steps, including sealing up students' lockers.

For the last two weeks of the school year, students at Wantagh High School -- located about 34 miles east of New York City -- are being forced to carry their books and belongings in plastic bags, sign in and out to use the bathroom and submit to searches when entering the building. But the sealing up of lockers took school security to a new level.

"It is an inconvenience, but it's like an airport really," Erik Beuttenmuller, an 11th-grader at the school told Fox 5 New York. "That is horrible, especially with all the classes cramming for the Regents [exams]. You need all your books, [and it] isn't fun lugging everything around.”


School officials took the extreme measures after finding multiple threatening messages located around the campus, one of which prompted an emergency evacuation. The final straw came one week ago, when a message was found scrawled in black marker on the wall of the men’s restroom saying, “Blowing The Skool [sic] up today no joke I’ve had it.”

“The increased measures, including bag checks and interior camera installation, were executed smoothly with the help of additional security personnel,” Maureen Goldberg, superintendent of the Wantagh School District, said in a statement. “Students were extremely cooperative throughout the process and attendance at the high school remains at a normal level.”

Backpack bans are not new, but have increased in school districts across the country in the past 10 years. School officials say the bans help keep out contraband items such as weapons or drugs, and also make crowded hallways more passable.

In 2012, Waukesha West High School, in Waukesha, Wis., instituted a requirement that backpacks be kept only in lockers during school hours. Students are only allowed to carry a small pencil case and a form-fitting case for laptops or tablets. Officials for the school cited safety issues at the time for instituting the policy, although parents complained that it was an excuse for the school to conduct locker searches at will.

Last year, the school officials in Oxford, Pa., banned bulky backpacks from being carried in the hallways as a safety measure, forcing students to either leave backpacks in their locker and carry books around or go back and forth to their locker between classes.

As far back as 2005, Clark County School District in Las Vegas banned backpacks and even purses because of increasingly cluttered hallways and reported thefts. The ban was also implanted out of concerns for safety after a teacher had sprained her ankle after tripping over a backpack left on the floor during the previous school year.

“Generally speaking, many more schools have been regulating use of backpacks,” Ken Trump, an Ohio-based school safety and security expert, told “It’s more of a day-to-day issue to avoid clutter to maintain mobility in the hallways and classrooms, which is reasonable.”

But Trump warned that the measure Wantagh High School is taking will do little to improve safety.

“If a school is doing this in response to some sort of threat, it’s just window dressing to create a visual cue that there is a perception of increased safety,” he said. "The fact of the matter is that if someone wanted to get something into the school they could.

“It’s something that makes people feel safe, but it actually doesn’t make them safer,” he added.