Once North East Independent School District announced its new clear backpack policy for middle and high school students in early June, the calls came flooding in. Over the last month, Jon Hart Design received an influx of inquiries from customers and retailers seeking backpacks that would comply with the 65,000-student school district's new rule, company spokeswoman Sharon Durham said.
"It was really just the demand from our customers that had us start looking at the possibility of making the clear version of our backpack," Durham told the Rivard Report on Monday.
Eyeing a new market, Jon Hart Design, a San Antonio-based handcrafted bag designer, developed a prototype and on Sunday began taking pre-orders for a $125 clear backpack that has the look of Jon Hart's other bags and backpacks, with plans to sell it online and at shops around the state. The handmade backpacks can be monogrammed and will ship in early August.
For some, $125 is a steep price to pay for a new book bag. Less expensive options are available at local and national retailers like H-E-B, Target, Walmart, and Amazon, where customers can buy a clear backpack for less than $25.
Campus organizations also are meeting the need by selling clear backpacks that have been approved by NEISD. Reagan High School spirit teams, for example, are selling clear bags as part of a fundraiser – stadium totes for $10 and backpacks for $20.
NEISD also has said it would provide a clear backpack to students whose families cannot afford one.
"We understand that this may be an added expense that some parents may not be able to manage," NEISD officials wrote in a release announcing the backpack policy. "If this is the case, contact your principal, and a clear backpack can be provided to you by the school."
Since NEISD announced its clear backpack requirement, other districts around the state have adopted similar policies. Most notably, the state's third largest school district, Cy-Fair ISD in northwest Houston, announced that it, too, would implement a clear backpack policy for all middle and high school students in 2018-19.
"It really does seem like there is a new school district every day implementing the [clear backpack] policy," Durham said, noting that in contacting retailers around the state, Jon Hart learned of many other districts that are requiring students to use a clear bag.
Some NEISD families and students have criticized the district's backpack and other security policies for invading student privacy.
An online petition on change.org to repeal the rule has close to 1,400 signatures. The petition says requiring a clear backpack "strips any opportunity for individuality from its students [and]... eliminates privacy and is inconsiderate to those who carry personal items such as feminine products."
Parents commented on Facebook with additional criticism, saying clear backpacks have functional challenges, mainly that they are "ugly" and "break easily."
Durham said Jon Hart is a local option that is meeting the demand brought about by the new policy, while seeking to address these concerns.
"I don’t think anyone was overly excited about the aesthetics of having to have a clear backpack," Durham said. "The Jon Hart backpacks are really cute, though, so it makes clear a lot prettier."
NEISD initially implemented its clear backpack policy amid a national school safety discussion, stoked by a string of school shootings. Starting next school year, NEISD students also will be subject to random searches by handheld metal detector wands. All campus exterior doors will be locked and anyone wishing to enter will have to be "buzzed in" by school personnel.