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'It is a difficult balance': School safety expert weighs in as GRPS backpack ban takes effect

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Posted at 5:49 PM, May 12, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The director of the National Center for School Safety spoke with FOX 17 Friday on how districts go about determining safety mechanisms and procedures to implement.

Expert: Limited research on efficacy of backpack bans

Justin Heinze, the director of the center, is also an associate professor at the University of Michigan.

While Heinze wasn't speaking directly about the backpack ban implemented by the Grand Rapids Public Schools district, he was able to provide insight into how these decisions are made.

He says it is difficult to evaluate the efficacy of approaches like backpack bans, as data comes slow from districts, and you can't always measure things that are prevented.

"It's hard to disentangle what is one that was averted, versus one that was never going to happen,” Heinze said.

"So oftentimes, we're left to look at proxy measures... we're left to look at more frequent, but less severe forms of violent behavior, or assault, maybe bullying behavior."

He says there just isn't much data proving that backpack bans, or requiring students to carry clear bags, will actually prevent violent incidents from happening at school.

“At least in one study, the students were somewhat okay with metal detectors, video cameras, school resource officers... they didn't like the backpack ban, and they didn't like the clear backpacks,” Heinze said Friday.

"There's just not enough information for me to say, at least from an academic perspective, whether they can make a difference. What I would say, for schools that are making the decision to implementing them, they know their communities best.”

He says it is important for districts to stay consistent in their policies and messaging around them, not just to create a sense of safety but also to make sure that students always feel confident enough to approach adults if they suspect somebody is planning something violent.

"It's going to be a suite of strategies, not just a one-size-fits-all model.”

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