Columbia schools allow only string sack packs to save space

Monday, February 25, 2008 | 6:11 p.m. CST; updated 5:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Cheyenne Lacey, 15, a ninth-grader at Jefferson Junior High, walks toward the crosswalk to meet her dad after school Monday. Cheyenne doesn't own one of the required smaller mesh bags required at the school, so she mostly carries her books or uses her purse.

COLUMBIA — String sack packs, a fad in recent years, have become the rule at two Columbia junior high schools.

Jefferson and West junior high school officials ruled at the start of the school year that the nylon bags are the only type of bag students would be allowed to carry between classes.

Jefferson Principal Nyle Klinginsmith said the rule is part of an ongoing attempt to deal with the lack of space in old buildings.

“Part of Jeff Junior has kind of narrow stairwells and small classrooms,” Klinginsmith said. “Teachers couldn’t really get around to help students or talk to them, and (the backpacks) weren’t fitting under the kids’ desks.”

A few years ago, students at Jefferson were prohibited from visiting their lockers between classes because they were doing so too frequently. Klinginsmith said students compensated by carrying everything with them.

“Backpacks were becoming big, which really wasn’t healthy for students,” Klinginsmith said.

To combat this, students at Jefferson were prohibited from carrying any kind of book bags between classes, but they were allowed to visit lockers at certain times.

Teachers and faculty at the school are trying to find a balance with the nylon bags. The new packs are smaller, and this summer a committee of teachers suggested the school allow students to carry them during the school day.

West Principal Sandra Logan said her school had similar motivations for allowing only the string bags. She referred to a passage in West’s student handbook that lays out the rule and explains the rationale.

“To reduce the congestion during passing time and to minimize the amount of extra items in classrooms, student backpacks of any style or size and shoulder-strap portfolios or bags are to be kept in student lockers. Nylon-style bags with drawstring closure are permitted,” she said.

Logan also said student safety was a priority.

“Some of our students, they carry everything they own in a backpack, and those backpacks weigh 30 pounds almost,” Logan said. “It is not good health-wise for students to be carrying backpacks day in and day out.”

Klinginsmith said another benefit is that it’s hard to hide dangerous items inside nylon bags.

At Jefferson, the bags must be made of a mesh material so that contents are clearly visible. The staff ordered bags with school logos printed on them and offered them for sale when students came to pick up their schedules and school agendas.

West does not require that the bags be mesh.

Larger backpacks are still the vehicle of choice for transporting the hefty texts home.

Both principals said that parents have called to inquire or complain about the new rule but have been understanding when it’s explained to them.

Jefferson student Kacey Bradshaw bought one of the school bags, but she said it broke on the first day of school. She hasn’t replaced it, even though the school offers to replace for free any bag that was purchased at school.

“I used it for my folders and notebooks and stuff,” Bradshaw said. “It did help a lot.”

Logan said that if students follow the recommendations in their handbook, the bags shouldn’t break. The handbook suggests that students put only notebooks, an agenda and writing utensils in their bags; textbooks should be carried by hand.

Husan Abdul-Kafi, another Jefferson student, estimated half his fellow students use the bags.

“Most of them are the ones the school sold,” he said.

Klinginsmith said the motivation behind the rule is a familiar one in a growing school district seeking strategies for dealing with buildings that are too small.

“This is our latest and best version so far,” he said. “Is it perfect? Probably not. But we’ll keep trying to make it better.”

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