As Prince George’s County Public Schools students returned to the classroom on Monday, some saw metal detectors and a mandatory clear backpack policy at their schools — new movements aimed at increasing school safety.
In his first major move as the new superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools, Millard House II announced these policies in July.
These security initiatives are intended to enhance safety and reduce the presence of weapons in schools. The new measures come after a school year in which 15 guns and 201 knives were seized in PGCPS.
Security screening technology will be installed in all high schools and some middle schools throughout the 2023-2024 school year.
Clear backpacks are now required for ninth through 12th-graders and students in the North, South and Middle non-traditional ninth to 12th grade programs. They are optional for students in sixth through eighth grades, but the school system may modify its policy after the first semester.
“Implementing a mandatory clear backpack policy will make it easier to observe and prevent dangerous items from getting into classrooms,” House said in a statement.
PGCPS said in a July statement when the policies were announced that it planned to give away 10,000 free clear backpacks at back-to-school events and help students and families obtain clear backpacks so that they won’t be excluded from school.
Claudia Barragan, a Prince George’s County resident who mentors high schoolers, said school system data doesn’t back up House’s initiatives.
Fighting was the leading cause for both arrests and suspensions in PGCPS during the 2018-2020 school years, according to PGCPS’s 2021 Optimal School Safety Task Force Executive Report.
Barragan believes that a lack of oversight and planning will prevent PGCPS from financing the screening devices beyond this year.
“I don’t think that having the metal detectors and clear backpacks is going to resolve those issues,” Barragan said. “The money is going to run out. At the end of the year it’s going to fail.”
Some community members and parents believe the new policies are misdirected and don’t give attention to the cause behind PGCPS’s disciplinary issues.
“If they would start concentrating on the roots of the problems, they might find better solutions,” said Jennifer Leaman, a mother of three students who attended the county’s public schools.
The Prince George’s County Educators Association advocates for a community-based coalition to address the current issues and come up with a more balanced solution. Specifically, PGCEA said enforceable policies, appropriate supplies and workplace training are necessary to develop a safe school environment.
“PGCPS’ current plan to install metal detectors in some high school entrances and enforce their clear backpack policy is not enough,” PGCEA said in a press release. “The school system must implement a holistic approach to wellbeing to address our students’ needs and the root causes of disciplinary infractions.”
House also pushed for implementing metal detectors during his previous tenure as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District in 2020, but was stonewalled by school board members worried about the cost.
The equipment in Houston cost almost $523,000, according to Communications Technologies Inc. of Chesterfield, Missouri.
House is hopeful that these changes will prevent more violent occurrences in PGCPS.
“I believe these initiatives will go a long way in preventing incidents and making everyone feel safer in school,” he said in a statement.