Backpack policy bags student with briefcase Carroll boy, 15, suspended for violating ban

September 19, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

When North Carroll High School banned backpacks and book bags at school this year to tighten security at the Hampstead school, Skyler Brungardt thought he had hit upon a way to get around the new rule.

The 15-year-old junior used money from his clothing allowance and bought a $100 conservative black leather briefcase to carry his books from class to class.

North Carroll High administrators were not impressed with Skyler's ingenuity and suspended him for one day. Another day was tacked on after Skyler and his mother met with school officials in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the matter.

As educators across the country struggle to deal with increasing problems involving violence and drugs in schools, the ubiquitous backpack has become an issue. Most Baltimore schools require students to carry clear backpacks. But few suburban schools have taken that step.

"I think the rule is foolish and discriminatory, and creates more problems than it solves," said Tessy Brungardt, Skyler's mother.

Skyler plans to appeal the suspension to school officials.

"I support him in this [the appeal], and if he believes it he should stand up for it," Brungardt said.

The rule permits students to carry backpacks when they arrive at school each morning, but they must store the backpacks in their lockers during the day. Jeffrey P. Rogers, an assistant principal at North Carroll High, said the school had to install additional lockers to accommodate the 1,450 students at the school.

"Initially, people were upset [about the ban on bookbags]," Rogers said. "But as we explained the reasons, most people said, 'OK, that makes sense.' "

"I'm not saying all students are happy about it."

It's difficult to imagine a teen-ager without a backpack bulging with books and life's other necessities, including clothes, cosmetics and food. But school officials say they have good reason to separate students from their backpacks.

The most obvious is to reduce the likelihood that students will use book bags or backpacks to conceal drugs, weapons or other illegal items.

Teachers at North Carroll High had also complained that it was difficult to maneuver when classroom aisles were blocked with cumbersome backpacks. And Rogers said teachers are being asked to use more hands-on activities in the classroom -- such as small-group projects -- that require students to move from their assigned seats.

Another purpose of the backpack ban was to eliminate a rodent infestation problem at the school, which administrators attributed in part to students who sneaked food into classrooms in their backpacks.

"We don't think removing book bags is the single solution to any of these problems, but it's a step in the right direction," said Rogers.

'A lot of books'

Many students see things differently.

"It's very difficult to carry a lot of books, especially if you have a lot of big ones," said Skyler. "The book for the British literature class, it's 2 inches thick."

Other students complained last week about making multiple trips to their lockers, and they say they are sometimes late to class because they forget a book or are delayed in the crowded locker area.

"I make 10 trips to my locker every day," said Sybil Dukehart, 15.

Local law enforcement officials applaud North Carroll High's ban on backpacks and say it greatly reduces the chance that a student will bring a gun to school. But they point out that many students conceal drugs in pockets, lockers or cars.

"It certainly sounds reasonable and doesn't sound intrusive or that inconvenient," said Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry Barnes of North Carroll High's book bag ban.

North Carroll Middle School prohibits book bags and backpacks as well. A crowded middle school in Anne Arundel County has the same policy for space reasons. Baltimore and Howard counties have no such restrictions, school officials said.

Briefcases included

Although the new rule at North Carroll High -- which is in the school's student and parent handbook -- doesn't address briefcases, Rogers said it applies to anything used to carry books.

"The question is, do they have a bag that can hide food, takes up space or might be used to conceal weapons or drugs, and a briefcase certainly can do all these things," he said.

Rogers said he couldn't discuss a discipline matter affecting a specific student but that there are guidelines to handle instances of student insubordination.

"If a student is outside of school rules, we ask them to comply and try to help them find a solution," he said. "A student who refuses to comply and refuses to work with us is acting outside of school rules, and we need to deal with that to create a safe and orderly school environment."

'Like foot soldiers'

North Carroll High teachers say the ban on book bags was long overdue. Without backpacks, teachers say, students have stopped bringing food and drink into classrooms, and there's more space to move now that the floors aren't covered with book bags.

"When you had 35 kids and 35 humongous backpacks, everyone was tripping," said social studies teacher Patricia Lawlor.

Science teacher Robert Dean said he has observed that the size of students' backpacks has grown at an alarming rate over the past few years.

"They were almost like foot soldiers, carrying everything," Dean said.

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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