Clear backpacks, metal detector wands to greet high school students after winter break

Local News

DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA)– Students at Danville High School will have to use clear backpacks when they return from Christmas break.

The school will also start using handheld metal detectors on all students on random days come January. They started wanding tardy students back in November.

“It addresses questions that the community at large were having about safety,” shared Danville School Board Member Johnnie Carey during Wednesday night’s monthly meeting.

As weapons threats grow across the area, schools are taking steps to watch what comes into the buildings more closely. Danville High School principal Tracy Cherry said the transparent bags will keep anything from being concealed.

“To make our kids safe and to feel safe that they can go to school and pay attention in class and not worry about safety,” Carey added.

Overall, Danville School Board members applauded Cherry for the plan to pass out clear bookbags to every student right after Christmas break.

“And so we’re excited about that,” Cherry added.

“I know I had several calls about the clear bookbags and my answer was, ‘You say you want safety,'” Carey said.

The concern raised by some parents was the weight of carrying backpacks as opposed to leaving everything in a locker, but Cherry said there aren’t enough lockers for every student.

At Oakwood High School, regular backpacks have not been allowed to be carried from class to class for years, according to English Teacher Amie Baumeister.

She said students had to go to lockers to switch out books in between. Then COVID-19 hit and the transparent backpacks felt like the clear solution.

“Last year was the first school year that we introduced clear backpacks,” Baumeister said.

“…With normal backpacks, we’ve found that they can conceal things. Typically for our school, the issue might be nicotine vapes or products like that. We also just don’t want them to have any sort of substance that’s not allowed to be on school grounds. We haven’t seen an issue with weapons here at our school, but that’s also a concern, I think for everybody, especially in the day-in-age that we’re living and working and teaching in.”

St. Joseph-Ogden High School has a similar policy.

Principal Gary Page provided this statement:

“SJO hasn’t allowed students to carry backpacks during the school day for years for school security/safety concerns.  Last year, due to COVID and needing to avoid students needing to utilize lockers and minimizing congregation points in the hall between classes, we decided to allow students to carry clear backpacks.  This solution went over very well on both the student and teacher levels; moreover, we kept the policy for this year as well.  By utilizing the clear backpacks students don’t have to utilize their lockers as much which keeps the flow moving between classes, students get to their classes earlier and more efficiently, and we still have the security benefit with the backpacks being clear.”

Back in Danville, School Board President Randal Ashton called the backpack plan progress.

“Almost every poll when you ask the community safety is like one of the first things that that comes up every time. So I’m glad we’re putting this forward,” he added.

Before concluding Wednesday’s discussion at the board meeting, Ashton said this is something that will need to be reviewed and re-evaluated as time goes on.

Cherry said they’re looking at other security measures too, including door alarms at all entries and exits, additional metal detectors (including some at Northridge Middle School) and they’re in the process of ordering vape detectors for school bathrooms.

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