In the wake of more school shootings, parents are purchasing their children bulletproof backpacks, and some schools are stocking up on items such as bulletproof whiteboards and blankets, making the old days of number 2 pencils and boxes of Kleenex as school supplies seem nostalgic. Makers of defense items for school-age children say business is booming. Steve Jurak, with Mighty Mojo in San Diego, sells the backpacks. He said whenever there is a random act of violence they see a surge in sales.
Companies such as Mighty Mojo, ProTecht, BulletBlocker and BodyGuard, to name a few, try to balance keeping children safe and making a profit. But critics say the companies just do not understand what daily life in a school is like. Ken Trump is a Cleveland-based school safety consultant who asks, “If you need a bulletproof backpack, wouldn’t the child also need a bulletproof front pack and a helmet and a Captain America shield?”
Trump pointed out that most schools require students to keep their backpacks in lockers or cubbies, meaning that the kids are not even likely to have them available in case of a violent incident. He said the companies are also often unaware that most schools do not have the budget to purchase things like bulletproof blankets or whiteboards.
Michael Dorn is executive director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit that conducts school safety assessments. He says his group has been “bombarded” with armored product pitches, but that the problem with the inventions is that “they’re not practical from a cost-benefit standpoint.” He encourages better drill processes and good student supervision as more productive safety efforts. He said that it is known that practicing evacuation drills in which children are put in double rows and walked briskly out of the building greatly reduces the time to evacuate and get to shelter.
The protection items do not come cheap but many parents apparently feel it is worth it. Bulletproof backpacks cost over $200, backpack inserts from Mighty Mojo cost $149.95, and bulletproof blankets are $1,000, seriously adding to the cost of school supplies. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore recently purchased 200 bulletproof whiteboards for $60,000 from the military vendor Hardwire. The whiteboards are intended to be placed near the classroom door so that a teacher can grab it to ward off an intruder. They even sell a bulletproof classroom door cover.
Critics say the items are not well thought out. The bulletproof backpacks are heavy and only protect the wearer from bullets from behind. Bulletproof blankets are intended to be distributed to children during an emergency to be used as a shield, but they leave the sides of the children exposed. The whiteboards would have to be maneuvered by the teacher into a position of defense in time to protect students from oncoming bullets.
BulletBlocker’s Ed Burke says “You name it, we can basically make it bulletproof.” However, rather than bulletproof backpacks, blankets and other supplies, Trump advocates staff training in schools to identify early warning signs, and resources to get kids who need help connected to mental health services. He said that our failures tend to be people issues, not equipment.
By Beth A. Balen