NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– New Hanover High students will need to switch to clear backpacks next month as part of an ongoing effort to strengthen safety on the campus following last week’s non-fatal shooting.
According to a school-wide email and phone call from New Hanover’s principal, Philip Sutton, the clear bag policy is one of several security protocols going into effect in the coming weeks. The school is also altering the process of transitioning students between classes and is maintaining a heightened law enforcement presence.
All students must start carrying transparent book bags by Monday, Oct. 11. Lunchboxes do not need to be see-through, the school shared on Twitter.
“As we return back to school tomorrow for a short week, we want you to know that we do so with safety as our top priority,” Sutton told the school community in a message sent out on the Labor Day holiday.
The announcement comes a week after shots were fired on the Market Street campus. A 15-year-old was arrested for shooting another student during a multi-person brawl that erupted in the school’s crowded catwalk. Following the incident, roughly 1,500 students were evacuated from the building while officers searched for the suspect.
The school is offering assistance to students who need help acquiring a clear bag, according to the email, though details at this time are limited.
Parent Laura Trivett, whose son is a freshman at New Hanover, said she is OK with the protocol if it makes the campus safer, but she is concerned about the financial burden on underprivileged teens. Through an initial online search, the bag she considered to be large enough for her son was upward of $60. She said the school is not using lockers — due to Covid-19 protocols — and the students pack bulky binders.
“If it makes it safer, I’m all in. But I just think it needs to be fair to everybody,” Trivett said.
Since the shooting, community members have weighed metal detectors as a potential option to prevent weapons from being brought onto campus, especially as youth violence is on the rise in the region. The consensus at a joint meeting Friday — which included county commissioners, the school board and law enforcement officials — was that metal detectors are ineffective.
New Hanover County Chief District Court Judge Jay Corpening said he believes the Aug. 30 shooting would have occurred regardless of whether students were scanned, though it may have changed the location of the incident. He said research suggests metal detectors make kids feel as if they are imprisoned and do little to deter violence.
New Hanover High is the first school in the district to announce a clear bag policy. According to New Hanover County Schools spokesperson Russell Clark, Sutton made the call for his school and no system-wide policy is in place at this time. The principal is also organizing a “Restorative Planning Committee” with students, parents and staff to discuss safety measures specific to the high school. The first meeting is later this week.
Clark said NHCS is penning a “comprehensive, districtwide safety plan” to prevent incidents similar to last week’s. The board of commissioners has also committed to funding youth violence intervention efforts using a portion of $350 million it received through the hospital sale.
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