Are Backpacks Saviors or Hazards?


Photo by Andrea Duggan

Student backpacks on the floor of a classroom could cause a trip hazard.

Backpacks litter the floor in the Journalism classroom, and students try not to trip over them as they navigate the room. This scene plays out in classrooms all over the school. 

When students returned to school this year, they were allowed to bring their backpacks into class with them. This development has been a big change for students and teachers. 

Before COVID hit, students weren’t allowed to bring their backpacks to class. They had to use their lockers in-between classes or carry their binders, folders, and pencil cases in their hands to every class, every day. At that point, computers were not issued to students. 

“The only reason I think [the school allows] them now is because [students] have been given laptops. Now, they have laptops and chargers they have to carry,” explained Spanish teacher Kathryn Valentine.

 She described how, before lockdown, students had every single class every day, and they would plan what they would carry to each class. They would have to figure out the best time to stop by their lockers to switch materials depending on proximity.  They would do so maybe 2 or 3 times a day, with only 4 minutes between classes. Now, students mostly just bring everything to every class for the whole day without the need to stop at a locker.

Many students find it much easier and quicker to bring their backpacks to class, like Ella E. 

“[Backpacks are] useful so that you won’t drop whatever you are carrying, and it gives you an easier way to carry it,” said Ella.

 The problem is that room for all those backpacks was not factored in when the classrooms were designed.  Many classes are full to capacity with 30 students in the room and also 30 backpacks.   

 “I’m scared to walk; I’m scared to trip over them,” explained Valentine.  “I have tripped over them.”

Both students and teachers have stumbled over the backpacks, though as yet, no injuries due to backpacks have been reported.  It does cause some interpersonal strife, though. Sometimes  the owner of the backpack takes offense, saying things like, “Don’t touch my stuff,” or, “Watch where you’re going.”  However, the bumpy, messy landscape of backpacks on the floor leaves very few walkways, making it hard not to trip. 

“They are all over the ground behind the seats, and it makes it hard for people to walk around the rooms. It is hard to move the chairs in and out from the desks,” Ella said. 

But despite the annoyance, most students prefer to bring their backpacks. Imagine if you came to school one day and weren’t allowed to bring your backpack to classes? 

“There would be a riot,” joked 7th grader Jameson M.

Backpacks are lifesavers for many students. 

“I have so many books and pencils and material that would be too difficult to carry,” Ella admitted.

Hector Martinez is the head of security at Longfellow, so he looks at the situation from the angle of safety. 

Well, backpacks, you know, are a safety concern,” Mr. Martinez said.  He thinks that backpacks are unnecessary. “With the use of lockers, I honestly don’t think that you need backpacks. There is plenty of time between classes to get your books and stuff like that,” he said. 

Backpacks in the hallways could also be an issue. There are already so many students in the hallways, and adding a backpack for each of them is like adding a whole other person, making there be less space for people. 

“I think the backpacks that some of the students carry are so big, and our hallways are already pretty cramped and tight,” said Martinez.

However, most students feel they don’t get enough time in between classes. 

It’s just easier to carry everything I need instead of stopping at my locker between classes due to the short transition times,” said Jameson. 

Backpacks could also be a potential health issue. According to studies by the National Library of Medicine, as well as several others, carrying a backpack more than 10% of your body weight can cause back and neck pain. 

Many students feel the need to carry all their work in their backpacks for both silver and blue days.  They feel it is easier not to switch back and forth between materials.  Many also worry about the short transition times, with protocols like up and down staircases causing them to take extra time.

For now, it seems students will continue to use their backpacks as they find the alternatives less desirable.