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Barre Town students' use of backpacks being 'negotiated'

Susan Notes:

These are the kind of
citizenship skills 8th graders need to be
involved in--issues that affect their own
lives.


By David Delcore

BARRE TOWN â Four eighth-graders spoke truth to
power at Barre Town Middle and Elementary
School this week. They spoke with one voice and
their message to school administrators couldn't
have been clearer: Get off our backpacks.

Armed with a petition signed by 50 students and
staff, Lucas Heath-Howe, Jordan Davis, Alex
Frey and Dillon Sleeper urged school directors
to trump their principal and abolish an
unwritten rule that prevents students from
carrying backpacks from class to class.

Toting a briefcase and sporting a suit and tie,
Heath-Howe took the lead, slamming what he
described as a "shocking new rule" that he
claimed has lit a fire under his classmates.

Since the issue surfaced barely a week ago,
Heath-Howe said it has provoked a flurry of
"persuasive essays," one much-discussed letter
to the editor, and the petition drive that was
launched in advance of Wednesday night's board
meeting. All, he said, were aimed at persuading
Principal Tim Crowley to scrap the rule and
give students the right to carry their beloved
backpacks.

"They're pretty swell to carry around," he
said, arguing backpacks were an
underappreciated asset for modern day middle
school students.

According to Heath-Howe, backpacks are a time-
saving organizational tool that are "better for
kids' spines," and keep homework assignments
just a zipper away at all times. He claimed
those advantages should outweigh the security
and safety concerns that led to the rule in the
first place.

"If school was really a school, wouldn't
education and grades be the most important
thing?" he asked.

Fellow student Frey agreed, describing the rule
as a solution in search of a problem. Although
he acknowledged concerns that students could
conceal weapons in backpacks, he said that has
never been a problem at schools in the greater
Barre area.

"If that (activity) is expected of us, what
kind of school is this?" Frey asked, adding:
"It's not good leadership to naturally assume
because we can do something bad we will."

According to Frey, most weapons that could be
carried in a backpack would fit in a pocket, a
binder or a Trapper Keeper.

"If someone wants to bring weaponry (to school)
they're going to bring it in," he said.

Then there was the "tampon" defense advanced by
Davis, who argued middle school girls
occasionally have a need to carry personal
items.

"They don't want to be walking down the hall
with tampons," he told the board. "Some stuff
needs to be kept private."

Sleeper wrapped up the impromptu presentation
noting that many middle school students prefer
to carry backpacks and despite the concerns
he'd heard, he didn't think they should be
prohibited from doing so.

"I don't think those reasons are good enough to
ban them altogether," he said.

Crowley joined board members in applauding
students for doing their homework on the issue,
but offered a few corrections. For starters, he
explained, the rule that they were complaining
about was far from "new." According to Crowley,
it was adopted nearly a decade ago in the wake
of the student-led massacre at Columbine High
School.

Acting on the recommendations of various
federal and state agencies, Crowley said school
officials decided to essentially ban carrying
backpacks and book bags between classes as a
precaution.

"That has been basically the way we have
operated here for many, many years," he said.

However, Crowley conceded that a "significant
turnover" in staff over the years has led to
what he characterized as "unequal treatment of
an unwritten rule" and has fueled students'
perception that they were being asked to give
something up.

"That's simply not the case," he said,
endorsing the board's suggestion that he meet
with students to negotiate a compromise while
defending a rule he still supports.

"I said 'no bags' because I believe we
shouldn't have bags," he said. "I get that it's
not a guarantee of safety, but the agencies
that advise schools ⦠do suggest that you
decrease the chance of someone bringing
something into school concealed if you don't
allow bags in the first place."

Crowley said he was sensitive to student
complaints about having to share undersized
lockers and was willing to discuss giving them
more time to get from one class to the next if
that would be helpful.

"The solution may very well be not a black and
white, bags or no bags," he warned.

Crowley said he reiterated that message during
a Thursday morning meeting on the issue with
Heath-Howe and Davis. He described the session
as productive, but said there hasn't yet been a
meeting of the minds.

"We're not done," he said. "Compromise is hard
work."

Crowley likened the dialogue to a two-year-old
dust-up over whether students should be allowed
to bring cell phones to school. Initially, he
said, the ruling was they shouldn't. However,
after a candid discussion of the busy lives of
today's students and their parents, school
officials modified their position.

According to Crowley, officials acknowledged
there might be a legitimate need for a student
to have a cell phone both before and after
school and the compromise enabled them to bring
the phones to school provided they leave them
in their lockers.

"That's the deal and the parents supported it,"
he said, expressing optimism he could negotiate
a mutually acceptable compromise when it comes
backpacks and handbags.

"If I can give them something that solves their
problems maybe they can give me no bags," he
said.

— David Delcore
Times Argus

http://timesargus.com/article/20090123/NEWS01/901230335/1002/NEWS01


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