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NHHS principal reverses decision, will not require students to wear clear backpacks

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Students at New Hanover High School will not have to use clear backpacks, a reversal that was announced by Principal Philip Sutton on Friday.

Sutton wrote in an email to students and parents that “the overwhelming feedback we got from our school community was that while clear backpacks might be an effective security measure, requiring them creates challenges for students that we didn’t intend.”

“We sincerely apologize if this policy change created any inconvenience or stress for your family. That is the last thing we want at a time like this,” Sutton stated.

The policy was set to go into effect on Oct. 11 following the Aug. 30 shooting on campus that left one student hospitalized and another facing multiple charges including attempted first-degree murder.

Sutton said that in the weeks after the shooting, he has met with students, parents, and staff about how to improve communication, safety, and the school climate at NHHS. Some parents were against the idea, but others in the school community welcomed the plan.

““The student is— everybody is sure [of their safety,]” said Cleopatra Moreno, the chair representative of Latino Parents for New Hanover County Board of Education. “The teacher watches what the kids have in the bag. It’s very important.”

“I think it’s important for our families to feel safe, especially the students that were here during the shooting,” said NHHS Class of 2020 graduate Brenny Chirinos. “I know it has to be really traumatizing.”

Although most people seem to agree that a clear backpack policy would be an effective safety measure, some parents pointed out how that would not work for their families. One parent said her child is an athlete and wouldn’t be able to carry everything he needs for practice in a clear backpack.

After hearing the school would not follow through with the policy, some parents were surprised.

“That’s shocking for them to reverse it because at the end of the day it’s about these children,” said Robert James. “I feel like they should have clear backpacks because of all the violence that’s going on here in Wilmington and these kids need to be safe at the end of the day.”

“We teach our students that when we know better we should do better, and we want to model that as school leaders,” Sutton stated in the Friday email. “We remain dedicated to making our school environment more safe, positive, and inclusive, and we want you to be part of that process. We will continue working with our parent focus group and listening to the voices of our staff, students, and community.”

In the aftermath of the shooting, county leaders authorized New Hanover County’s manager to tap into a $350 million emergency fund to address violence in the community.

School principals, law enforcement partners, city and county staff, counselors, social justice groups, and some parents sat down together for a workshop last Friday to develop a plan and identify goals to try and combat the violence.

While those specific goals were not announced at the workshop, County Manager Chris Coudriet explained they narrowed their focus to six goals; three will be centered around “hardscape” goals for schools, including security equipment and physically addressing the number of entrance and exit points at each school; while the three other goals will be more “people-centric,” involving resources and services to support students and parents.

A formal presentation will be made to county commissioners Monday morning.

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