Students at Duluth Washburn Edison are required to carry clear plastic backpacks this year to go with their mandatory school uniforms.
The $10 backpacks with black fabric side panels are meant to prevent students from bringing "anything into the building that isn't supposed to be there," said Bonnie Jorgenson, head of the Edison Duluth Public Schools Academy, which started classes on Monday.
She said no particular incident caused the school to institute the change for grades 6-8, and the decision was "purely preventive."
Students could make a contribution toward the backpack or receive one for free if they couldn't afford it.
Brenda Butterfield's seventh-grade daughter was able to fit her tennis shoes and all of her books in the pack, which some parents said were too small.
"I'm curious to find out how well they work," Butterfield said, noting the topic of concealing personal hygiene products was probably of "great debate" to the girls at the school.
Eighth-grader Kaylin Boynton said it was hard to fit her binder into the backpack, and said the idea of having to find ways to hide feminine products was "just a little awkward," she said. "I'm not a big fan, but I totally understand why the school thinks they're important."
Jorgenson said girls would be able to carry such feminine products in pencil cases, and that was one of the first concerns presented to school officials by parents.
Chad Frantz, father to a sixth-grade boy, said he doubted the clear bags would help in any kind of security situation.
"If someone wanted to bring something in, they'll find a way," he said.
Coral Stephens, mom to an eighth-grader, said security was important to her and she appreciates the new backpacks.
Dangerous situations in schools are "something I never dreamed of worrying about and now people have to," she said.
Some parents expressed concern about the plastic material and its durability. A teacher told one of eighth-grader Timothy Metcalfe's classes that Jorgenson had put a bag in the freezer "to see if it would get brittle," he said. "It was fine, so it will stand up to bad weather."
Jorgenson said parents and students had mixed reactions when uniforms became mandatory 13 years ago. Now, most people have no problems with the uniforms, "and the same will probably prove true with the backpacks," she said.
The Duluth News Tribune and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.