MINOCQUA – Students with backpacks scurrying to their next class may be a thing of the past when school reopens this fall at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua.
Administrators at the 700-student body high school are proposing banning backpacks, as well as book bags and purses, during normal school hours, according to new language inserted in the draft of the 2020-21 student handbook. The school board reviewed the policy changes on Monday.
Principal Justin Szews urged adoption of the measure, admitting that it will be unpopular with students and some parents. “My phone is going to light up,” he said.
Board member and former teacher Barb Peck favored the new policy language. “It will be inconvenient for students for a while,” she said. “Students will adjust. I don’t see it being a big issue after a while. I think it’s a good thing to do.” Lakeland is one of the very few schools in the area that allows students to have backpacks with them during the school day.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed school shootings out of the headlines, schools officials are concerned about the ability of a disgruntled student to smuggle a weapon into the school. The other major concern is that students could conceal drugs or vaping devices in their backpack.
Board member Barry Seidel said the new policy, if approved, would “penalize” students who “have a good, useful purpose for a backpack.” He cited his own high school experience, saying without a backpack, he would have been “disorganized.” Secondly, he added, the backpack ban wouldn’t prevent a student from bringing in counterband, whether it’s “under their arms, under a coat or in a shoe.”
Peck said while that might true, “.... they would have to work harder to find another way.” Under the revised policy, students would be allowed to carry materials and books into the school at the beginning of the school day and out of the school at the end of the day in backpacks, book bags or purses. “At all other times (in the hallways, in the classroom, in the LMC/Theatre, etc.) students will be expected to leave their backpacks, book bags and purses in their lockers,” the handbook says. “On an individual basis only, students with special circumstances (using crutches, in a wheelchair, etc.) may be allowed to take their backpacks/book bags/purses to class,” the draft policy says. “Exceptions require the permission of a building administrator.”
Board member Shari Nimsgern asked about the number of issues administration has fielded in a school year with backpacks. She also wondered if clear backpacks might be an option. The proposed changes will return to the board at a future date for a final decision.
In other actions the board:
• Accepted the resignation of special education teacher Christopher Bily;
• Hired Cassidy McBee as a social studies teacher at an annual salary of $46,000. She is finishing her graduate work at UW-Madison in curriculum and instruction for secondary education.
• Hired Jennifer Quade as head volleyball coach with a $4,208 salary. She was the head volleyball coach at Fall River High School for four years.
• In a special meeting May 11 the board hired Gami Miller at a business-marketing teacher.
The board also nonrenewed the contract of an instructional staff member.