New Hanover High principal reverses clear backpack decision, apologizes

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– Clear backpacks will not be required at New Hanover High School next month. 

In a phone call and email Friday evening, principal Phillip Sutton announced the reversal of his decision, first announced to parents last week.

RELATED: New Hanover High implements clear backpack policy following last week’s on-campus shooting


“We teach our students that when you know better, you should do better,” Sutton said in the message. “And we want to model that as your school leaders. 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.”

The policy was slated to go into effect Monday, October 11. Sutton made the decision the week following a nonfatal shooting on school grounds, in which one student was hospitalized and another was charged with first-degree attempted murder after firing shots inside the school’s crowded catwalk.

In the aftermath, community leaders have organized a series of meetings. New Hanover County’s manager has been authorized to access an undetermined portion of $350 million in hospital sale proceeds to address youth violence. 

Top New Hanover County leaders met in a private meeting midday Friday to discuss funding priorities. After the meeting, New Hanover County Schools superintendent Dr. Charles Foust told reporters he didn’t know if Sutton’s clear backpack policy would solve any problems.

Since the Aug. 30 shooting, Sutton said he had met with students, parents and staff to enhance communication, safety, and the school climate. “We remain dedicated to making our school environment more safe, positive, inclusive,” he said. “We want you to be a part of that process.”

In preparation for the policy change, many parents had already ordered clear backpacks. At the time of the Sept. 6 policy notice, the announcement stated it would help families purchase a bag if necessary but shared few details on how to get assistance.

“We sincerely apologize if this policy change created any inconvenience or stress for your family,” Sutton said in the Friday evening call. “That’s the last thing we want at a time like this.”


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