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Bulletproof class items: Precaution or overreaction?

5:09 PM, Sep 16, 2013   |    comments
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(WZZM) -- The Navy Yard shooting Monday morning in Washington D.C. also affected dozens of nearby schools, which were put on lockdown. It raises the question: Is your child safe in school?

WZZM 13 is taking a look at a trend that is gaining popularity: Bullet proofing school items like backpacks and clipboards.

Is it another way to keep kids safe, or overreacting? Does it work? And are bulletproof items part of any West Michigan school district's heightened security?

Larry Johnson is in charge of public safety and security at Grand Rapids Public Schools. He says the district continues to work with the police department on crisis planning and has upgraded its own security and staff training.

"We have new vehicles moving around on a day-to-day basis, more vehicles, and two-way radios," said Johnson. "Everyone one of our schools has a minimum of three radios to communicate."

But as it has been for a few years now, the first line of defense is controlling who and how buildings can be entered.

"All of our doors are locked all the time. Individuals entering the building go directly to the office," said Johnson.

It's an area where progress has been made in the last 10 years; controlled access to schools across the country has gone from 75 percent to 92 percent.

In Rockford schools, Superintendent Mike Schibler looked at a new product that coats windows and doors. While not bulletproof, it stops glass from shattering and with the right kind of window, could potentially slow down bullets.

But perhaps the most controversial idea for protecting kids is bulletproof inserts for backpacks, and bulletproof whiteboards, clipboards, and calendars. Basically turning classroom items into shields.

Impact Armor Technology in Cleveland is one of dozens of companies now marketing the bulletproof items. Our sister station, WKYC put the product to the test using hand and shot guns.

They worked. But despite the ability to stop bullets, school security experts don't like the idea.

"I don't think that they really have a lot of value-- it's cost prohibitive," says Johnson. "Book bags are in a locker all day, most have access at the beginning and end of school. My personal opinion: It's manufacturers taking advantage of citizens here on the back of a national tragedy."

Impact Armor admits they aren't the ultimate solution, just one more way to protect students. The company also says a few private citizens in the Grand Rapids area have purchased various bulletproof products. Costs range from $100 to $300.

Local parents we talked to seem hesitant about buying such items.

"I don't want to make my kids scared of the world. It's important to be honest, but I don't really think that would be necessary," said one parent.

"I don't anticipate there being danger in school around Grand Rapids, but it's added safety you can never go wrong with added safety," said another parent.

"There is a difference between feeling safer and actually being safer and as a father, I'd ask if I have to give my kids a bulletproof backpack, do I also need a bullet proof front pack, helmet and a Capt. America shield?"

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