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MHS backpack rule questioned

by Larry S. Chowning

The Historic Middlesex Courtroom in Saluda was filled at a school board meeting Monday night as Middlesex High School parents and students criticized a new high school rule that prohibits backpacks and book bags in the classroom or in the halls during the school day.

One of the main concerns of some parents was the way new principal Dr. Stephen Castle handled the situation. Parents said Castle announced the new rule the first week of school, and the rule was not mentioned in the student handbook. Students and parents indicated they needed more notice and a better explanation of the reason for the rule.

MHS senior Emily Wood said she needs to carry her backpack to and from class because she does not have enough time to get from class, to her locker, and then to her next class during the 5 minutes between classes.

Wood also said if she forgets anything, there is no time for her to return to her locker and get the item without being tardy for class.

Parent Lynn Eanes of Locust Hill suggested that a PTA or some type of parent-teacher association needs to be organized at the high school to assist in these types of issues. “I do understand not wanting the book bags in school for safety concerns and causing people to trip in the hallway, but our children are very used to using book bags.

“They use their book bags to organize their day and they have used them all through elementary and middle school,” Eanes said. “When a policy is changed, we should know about it ahead of time. It should not be a first-day-of-school change.”

Eanes reminded the large group of parents and students in attendance that even though “we don’t agree with the rule, Dr. Castle is just trying to keep our children safe.”

Parent Craig Donor of Remlik said he understands that backpacks sitting in the halls can be dangerous, “but shoelaces also can be dangerous, so why not ban shoelaces?

“Students are only afforded 5 minutes before classes to make it to their locker and get back to the next class,” Donor said.  “I personally went to the high school this morning with my daughter and I went from Room 517 and I timed myself from Locker 237 to Room 608, and I was out of breath because I was trucking. It took approximately 6 minutes and 22 seconds for me to make it to class. 

“My daughter’s locker is not the farthest away in the school and the classroom was not the farthest either,” said Donor. “Five minutes is not enough between classes.

“This is going to make students tardy every single day,” continued Donor. “No statistics were given as to how many people have been hurt from backpacks. It’s just a rule that came out of the blue that we didn’t know about, and we don’t agree with.”

Parent Ray Rodgers of Urbanna said there are many things that can be construed as a hazard. “You could require that everyone wear athletic shoes and ban heels, flats and other types of shoes because they might slip on the floor,” he said. “If you haven’t had any problems, I don’t see the necessity to fix it right now. Let the kids have their book bags.”

Anje Chandler of Urbanna said she first heard about the new rule on Friday when her daughter came home with a letter from the school. “I wonder why this hasn’t been a problem all these years,” she said. “They use book bags and backpacks at St. Clare Walker and MES. I just don’t understand why it’s a problem now.”

Killi Musick, a junior at MHS, said the new policy is “unnecessary and can be problematic.” She noted that some students don’t use lockers and should not be forced to do so.

“Middlesex High School has 450 students and does not have a history of any kind of violence,” she said. “There is no valid reason to institute this policy.”

Numerous other people also spoke on the backpack issue.

Dr. Castle said the reason the backpack rule was instituted was because “there are some issues that our school has dealt with in the past as far as school safety is concerned with items being brought to school in backpacks.”

Dr. Castle said he was surprised with the amount of opposition because in other schools where he has worked backpacks have been required to stay in the lockers during the school day.

School board member Elliott Reed reminded the audience that the school board makes policy and is usually not involved in individual school rules, such as the backpack rule.

School board member Dr. Richard Shores took offense to several strong indications that school board members were not doing their job and not “earning their pay.” Dr. Shores said the little bit of money he makes as a school board member, he gives back to the schools.

Immediately after the public input session when the parents and students spoke, school board members made no comment. The comments from Reed and Dr. Shores came later in the meeting.

No indication was given by school officials whether the new backpack rule would remain in effect, be altered or be dropped.

posted 09.16.2009

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