Bag Checks Ridiculous and Ineffective

Posted on February 7, 2012

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Guest Editorial | Eric McGowan

Reading a letter addressed to “the parent or guardian of Eric McGowan,” I find myself in a state of confusion.  The letter, mailed by the School District of Springfield Township, informed parents that the administration has scheduled random bag checks for the upcoming months.  Unfortunately, Springfield experienced a heartbreaking tragedy five years ago, and there are currently a few students that make poor decisions by bringing alcohol and drugs into school, but I cannot comprehend why the administration suddenly decided to plan blanket bag checks.  Of course, the administration’s main goal is to promote a safe and positive learning environment for all students and staff, which it has effectively achieved this year.  However, this goal will be compromised if random bag checks are implemented as they create a hostile learning environment and fail to keep students safe.
The feeling of being searched is never a good one.  Whether there is something to hide or not, people rarely enjoy watching a stranger plow through their personal belongings, especially when it is not necessary.  I remember the last time I went through a bag check at Springfield.  It was my turn to get searched and one of the security guards started shuffling around the contents of my bag as she was instructed to.
She held up a suspicious looking brown bag and asked, “What’s in here?”
I replied, “My lunch.”
She then continued to open the mysterious brown bag to find an apple juice and a sandwich.  Please keep in mind that I’m not making this up – as absurd as it may sound, it actually happened.  After my search, I walked to homeroom to hear a variety of equally ridiculous stories.  I don’t remember people noting how safe they felt or how glad they were that their bag was checked, I only remember the laughable stories that were marked with a strong sense of negativity.  I am sure that bag checks would only bring a similar feeling to the school day today – one of hostility.
Some parents, teachers, and administrators may claim that although nobody really enjoys bag checks, they are necessary to ensure the safety of students and staff.  Let’s be real – is there anything that can fit into a backpack that cannot fit under a baggy sweatshirt or a loose-fitting pair of sweatpants? I’m not sure that there is.  Perhaps we should force students to wear tights, have bag checks every day, and buy metal detectors all in the name of a false sense of security.
As far as guns and violence go, the reality is that we are all at the mercy of each other, and school officials should embrace that concept moving forward.  In fact, the administration has taken a step in the right direction in terms of addressing bullying with the No Place for Hate initiative.  Making students more aware of the things they say and do is necessary to build a sense of community in the high school.  The No Place for Hate initiative and other methods of education are far more effective than bag checks because they seek to address the root causes of the problem rather than its effects.
When discussing blanket bag checks for drugs and alcohol, it is important to accept the reality that a student will find a way to sneak banned substances into school if he or she is determined to.  Simply put, bag checks do not address the “problem” of drugs and alcohol in school at all.  I put quote-marks around ‘problem’ because I wonder if we should truly be concerned with drugs and alcohol in Springfield in the first place.  Springfield had a 100 percent graduation rate in 2010, so I find it hard to say that drug and alcohol use is anything near an epidemic.  Drug and alcohol use in school should be addressed at an individual level because there are only a few individuals who cause a problem.  In essence, school officials should steer clear of burdening every student with a bag check in an attempt to solve a problem that does not really exist.
It seems that some people avoid the bag check conversation because of what we as a community went through only five years ago.  It was one of the worst days in the lives of all who were present, and it seems that one of its causes was bullying. With that said, there needs to be a serious conversation between students, teachers, and administrators to discern the appropriate steps that should be taken to move forward with the anti-bullying cause while maintaining safety.  Rummaging through students’ belongings should not be one of those steps, as doing so would be both detrimental to the school and ineffective overall.  Instead, we as a school and community should solve the problem of bullying by doing what we are best at–educating.

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Posted in: Editorials