Bulletproof backpacks may soon be allowed in New Orleans public schools. An Orleans Parish School Board committee on Tuesday, December 18 approved allowing the optional bags and it appears the proposal will pass when the full board votes on Thursday, December 20.
What Is Happening?
According to the New Orleans Advocate, an Orleans Parish School Board committee gave approval to allowing the optional school gear, following the action in early 2018 by the Legislature that made the items legal.
The school district’s attorney Kathy Moss said the board is not required to pass the policy change, but the district would like to give families the option.
“Student safety is of the utmost importance,” Moss said. “If that’s an option parents believe they’d like to provide for their child, then we’re just trying to give clarity in our policy to allow it.” The recommendation will go before the full, seven-member board on Thursday, and the proposal appears to have enough votes to pass.
The backpacks were banned in Louisiana until Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a proposal in June 2018 to let students wear them on school property or school buses. In the early 1990s, schools were designated as gun-free zones, and state law prevented students or staff members from wearing body armor.
However, the law now has an exception to the body armor ban, allowing backpacks with either a metal insert or whole panels made with Kevlar, a fiber used in bulletproof vests.
Republican state Sen. Mike Walsworth was the one who introduced the bill. He has said that the backpacks could protect students if a shooter is on campus and that he was reacting to the shooting at Parkland, Florida, the high school where 17 people were killed in February 2018.
The Parkland gunman used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, sparking a nationwide debate about stricter gun control laws and the role of heightened security in public schools.
“It does at least give our children some kind of protection,” Walsworth said before his bill was passed. “Our kids need to know there is some way to protect themselves.”
Not Everyone Agrees
Other school districts in Louisiana have passed rules allowing the backpacks. The school board in West Feliciana Parish did so in August 2018. Some local officials have said they support the change, though it did meet some resistance, including from a representative of the Jefferson Parish School Board.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans, was one of the two senators who voted against the bill in the Legislature. He said that the backpacks, which can cost from $50 to $400, might be unaffordable for many families. He also said that the backpacks are not equivalent to “a Captain America shield.”
“You are not going to run out there blocking bullets with a good outcome,” Morrell said at the time as WWL-TV reported.
Louisiana isn’t the only state to have passed a law allowing the backpacks and they have become available in stores and online from companies like Bullet Blockers and Guard Dog Security.
The companies said the material can hold off bullets from handguns and shotguns. However, the Ballistic Armor Research Group said such backpacks won’t protect against the assault-style weapons often used in mass shootings, according to ABC News.
Officials have warned against being misled by companies promising the backpacks to meet federal standards. The U.S. Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said that marketing claiming National Institute of Justice testing or certification of such products is false, as the research institute certifies body armor only for law enforcement.