West Memphis students head back to school with a new backpack rule

Published: Aug. 21, 2022 at 9:29 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 22, 2022 at 4:54 AM CDT
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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (WMC) - Students in West Memphis are just hours away from the first day of their new school year.

Classes begin Monday with new measures in place to ensure student safety, according to Superintendent Richard Atwill.

The first day of school for students also means it’s the first day of a new backpack policy for all grades. A new clear backpack policy was passed in June, just one month after the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers during school hours.

“Those shootings are terrible, but they aren’t what prompted it,” Atwill said. “Being good stewards of our children is what prompts us to make sure that the safety is in place and effective.”

This means students will be required to have clear, see-through backpacks in schools starting Monday.

Atwill said school safety is his top priority and this move is to ensure that.

“You can’t have too much security, but there’s a balance because we have to remember that we’re running education institutions and not prisons. We want to make it as safe as possible,” said Atwill.

One thing the district is doing to help with this new change is providing clear backpacks to students who need them. Administrators tell me if students come to school Monday without a clear backpack, they will receive one for free. If they happen to lose or tear their backpack throughout the year, they will receive a new one.

Administrators say at this point it’s just backpacks.

Lunch bags, purses and sports bags for those who play sports do not need to be clear.

The district is increasing security by having school resource officers at each of the 10 schools within the district. Each of those schools will also undergo a “needs assessment.”

“We’ll do a written assessment, a physical assessment, and emotional assessment of safety in each of the schools,” Atwill said. “We currently have 10 schools in the district, and we’ll do that at each one of them. We’ll assess access, egress.”

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