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Controversy as Broward School Board pushes for clear backpacks after closed-doors meeting

Broward schools is requiring all backpacks to be clear in the 2023-24 school year. This idea was piloted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland in 2018 after the mass shooting that killed 17.
John McCall
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Broward schools is requiring all backpacks to be clear in the 2023-24 school year. This idea was piloted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland in 2018 after the mass shooting that killed 17.

Security is a paramount concern in Broward, where only five years ago one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history occurred, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The Broward County Public School Board confirmed that in recent months it’s held closed-door discussions about school security — specifically, about having students carry clear backpacks and wear school uniforms. The board has notified parents that it wants to make those see-through backpacks, purses and lunch containers mandatory next school year.

One of the key questions here is: Did the board violate Florida’s open-meetings rules — the Sunshine Law — by conducting closed-door meetings that may not have met the “school security” criteria?

On the South Florida Roundup, Scott Travis, education reporter for the Sun Sentinel, said absolutely not.

“The law is specific on when you can have security discussions, and it's designed to protect students and protect the public when it comes to very vulnerable student information,” he said. “How can a discussion about clear backpacks be a sensitive security issue when you're going to send a note out to everybody saying this is going to happen?”

This isn’t the first time clear backpacks have been brought up in discussions in Broward. After the shooting at MSD High School, they were required for students. After pushback from students and parents, the requirement was dropped.

Why reintroduce it after five years? Travis said he hasn’t gotten clear answers from the school board about this.

“The only types of answers they ever give me is, ‘Well we realize that there is no one tool that will prevent all things, so this is part of a layered approach that we're going to do’,” he said.

READ MORE: House backs measure to lower gun-buying age, reversing change after Parkland school shooting

Travis said they used a school district in Dallas as an example of clear backpacks working. The board visited the district and saw the backpacks were working fine and students didn’t have a problem with it.

Jacqui Luscombe is a Broward parent who heads the Exceptional Student Education Advisory Council for the school district. She said many Broward parents are mad this discussion was held behind closed doors.

“I think parents want accountability, and when we say we have an expectation of transparency, we don't mean clear backpacks,” she said. “Open governance and the laws that define it can't be twisted this way.”

She also doesn’t believe the clear backpacks would be effective in keeping students safe. She doesn’t like the idea of students having their personal effects visible for everyone to see while on the bus, walking home from school, or walking past strangers.

Not being able to voice input on this topic in a public forum has Luscombe and other parents feeling left in the dark.

“So what are our kids going to do? Parade past a line of security experts who are all going to be individually eyeballing their backpacks? We know nothing about this,” she said.

A meeting was planned for June 13, which would’ve approved a code of conduct change to allow clear backpacks in Broward County schools. Due to public backlash, they will now hold a town hall meeting to discuss the idea on June 12.

On The South Florida Roundup we also spoke about the lowered threshold for extreme heat advisories in Miami-Dade County and the struggles Haitians are experiencing daily.

Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.
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