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Expert weighs in on GRPS's decision to un-ban backpacks

Dr. Marc Zimmerman from the Institute for firearm injury prevention says that school districts are better off getting to the "root" of the problem.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — When students in Grand Rapids go back to class next month, they'll be able to take their backpacks with them. 

Grand Rapids Public Schools banned backpacks in May after four incidents where young students brought guns to school. 

The district made the decision to reverse the ban on Monday after hearing from parents and students through conversations and surveys. 

The executive director of public safety at GRPS says some main concerns they heard were students not being able to store personal items or safely transport technology and materials necessary for schooling. 

Dr. Marc Zimmerman, co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention and a professor at the University of Michigan, says school districts are better off addressing the "root" of the problem. 

"While people think about doing these kinds of things, there's actually not a lot of evidence one way or the other about whether these work," said Dr. Zimmerman when addressing the impact of banning backpacks or only allowing clear backpacks. 

"We think about what we have to do to prevent firearms from even coming into the kids' ideas to bring to school. If you have to catch a kid bringing a gun to school at the door, you've lost already."

Fostering a positive school environment is a key step in working towards preventing students from attempting to bring weapons to school, he said.

"We know that a more positive social climate has less bullying. Bullying is a precursor to violence. Violence is a precursor to a weapon-related, gun- or knife-related kind of activities. And so, if we just start at the top and say, 'oh, we just need to deal with that,' you're not really addressing the underlying causes that results in why a child wants to bring a gun to school in the first place."

Dr. Zimmerman says a school's plan to prevent violence should include social and emotional learning, where students learn how to solve conflicts without being violent and how to control their emotions. 

The next step, he says, is early detection, which utilizes anonymous reporting systems, locking doors and the use of cameras and metal detectors to physically deter weapons from being brought to school. The last component he describes is the school's climate, what the rules are and how they are communicated.

He also explains that parents play a key role in keeping school's safe.

"I think parents play a huge role in that they can support the school in helping develop positive climate in the school, they can also play a role in the parent, teacher organization, that PTOs that might exist in the school to help support the idea that of climate and social emotional learning in schools."

Parents who own firearms also have a responsibility to store their guns so that they are unloaded and inaccessible to their children.

"Of course, if they are gun owners, teaching the kids about gun safety, that you don't carry a gun, you don't use it against people."


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