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Grand Rapids schools add backpack ban after gun found in third-grader’s bag

empty classroom
Grand Rapids Public Schools students will not be allowed to bring backpacks to schools. Superintendent Leadriane Roby announced the change Wednesday afternoon after district staff confiscated a handgun from a third grade student. (Shutterstock)
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools is adding a backpack ban
  • The school district announced it had confiscated a gun from a third-grade student Wednesday
  • The district has confiscated three other guns from students this school year

Grand Rapids Public Schools is banning backpacks effective immediately after the district confiscated a loaded handgun from a third-grade student Wednesday morning, the district announced Wednesday afternoon. 

This is the fourth gun confiscated from a district student this school year, the district said in a news release. Just last week, the school district confiscated an unloaded gun from a student in a different elementary school

On Wednesday morning, a student at Stocking Elementary picked up a dropped backpack and noticed the bag was heavier than usual, GRPS Chief of Staff and Executive Director of Public Safety & School Security Larry Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. The student reported it to an “instructor” and then the district discovered there was a gun in the backpack. 


The police department is investigating the incident. 

School district officials, the city police chief and the city mayor all made passionate pleas at the news conference urging parents and caregivers to take responsibility for storing their guns safely.

“Here's children, 7- and 8-year-olds, taking an interest when they see there is something dangerous in this backpack that could kill people in this room,” said Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom. 

“I think it's important that the parents, that the mothers and fathers, and mother-figures and father-figures in this town take just as great of an interest – a much greater interest – in looking at that backpack before it leaves the house.”

GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby called her district’s backpack ban a “drastic step.” 

“But we think it's a necessary step because we want to ensure the safety of not only our scholars, but our staff and our community.” 

Johnson said the district currently anticipates the ban going through the end of the school year.

Across the country, schools are wrestling with how to ensure students and staff are safe with some schools beefing up physical security measures. Flint Community Schools for example has a backpack ban that began May 1.  

In January, a six-year-old student in Virginia shot his teacher. Since then, the teacher has sued the school district. After the shooting, the family released a statement that said the student has an “acute disability” and that his care plan included having his mother or father being in class everyday. The shooting took place during the first week his parents weren't in class with him, according to the statement. 

In an interview with ABC News, his mother said her son has ADHD and that the parents weren’t there because the student had new medication and was meeting his academic goals. 

Prosecutors said the student’s mother, Deja Taylor, is charged with a felony count of child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly leaving a firearm as to endanger a child. 

In a message to families posted to the district website, GRPS’ Stocking Elementary Principal Michael Thomasma urged parents and families who own guns to be vigilant.

“It is absolutely critical that all weapons are securely locked and kept away from the reach of children,” he wrote. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed into law measures aimed to prevent minors from having access to weapons but those have yet to take effect. 

GRPS will host a community event to discuss school safety on May 20. Roby said metal detectors are “maybe a deterrent” but they alone are not going to solve safety concerns.

Johnson and Secure Education Consultants Founder and President  Jason Russell will lead the discussion.

Russell serves on the state’s School Safety and Mental Health Commission and his company has been hired by several districts across the state to perform security assessments. 

Last summer, lawmakers approved $168 million for districts to use to improve school safety.  

Districts can use the money for coordination with law enforcement, staff training on threat assessment and training for school resource officers. The money may also be spent on several security infrastructure items including cameras, secure entryways and technology to detect guns on security cameras.

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