Eighth-Graders Gifted Bulletproof Backpack Accessories For Graduation

A Catholic school has given students moving on to high school bulletproof inserts so that they may use their backpacks as armor. But are these devices effective?

Following the several campus shootings in recent months, schools have been struggling to come up with immediate ways to help protect students in the event of an active shooter situation. 

One Catholic school in Pennsylvania has resorted to handing out bullet proof gadgets during the eighth-graders’ graduation.

Saint Cornelius Catholic School gifted bulletproof inserts to its eighth-graders, allowing them to turn their backpacks into shields in case of a shooting. The school’s principal, Barbara Rosini, requested the “vests” from Unequal Technologies, a ballistic armor company. CEO Robert Vito’s daughter attends the Catholic school. And, perhaps because of his relationship with the institution, Vito decided to donate the protective gear to students and faculty.

“It’ll stop the most powerful handguns in the world,” Vito told reporters. “We went to the military testing ground and said break this. They shot it with shotguns, buckshots, slugs and could not penetrate it.”

But experts tend to disagree.

Many say that inserts like the one produced by Vito’s company cannot protect students in all capacities. As such, giving these items to students will only provide a false sense of security.

“The chances of a ballistic backpack coming into play during an attack or saving a child from injury are slim,” armor expert Aaron Westrick, who works for the Ballistic Armor Research Group, said.

Such shields are not capable of protecting children from AR-15 bullets or related weapons or rifles, Westrick added. Unless they are built with steel or titanium, the shields won’t perform well. Still, he added, some defense systems work. But choosing to send a child to school with one that might not be as effective may or may not be the best solution.  

"Armor can and does save lives," Westrick added. "If it's real to you and you feel better sending your kid out with this kind of armored product, that’s your choice."

Others, like National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, questioned the use of such devices when, instead, people should be talking about how to prevent shootings altogether.

"If we’re considering whether children should carry bulletproof backpacks, the real question is, 'Why should we accept living in a country where we need to ask that?'" she asked. "Rather than outfitting our children with body armor, we should focus on enacting common-sense gun safety reforms that keep students safe and are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans."

Despite these calls for action outside of the classroom, students who received the shields seemed happy.

Student Jake Nicosia told reporters that the device is “a really great product that can help protect us, but I hope I never have to use it.”

While it’s important that schools act to help ensure children’s safety, methods that put the responsibility in the kids' own hands are seen as ineffective and emotionally questionable. After all, children might feel overwhelmed by carrying an armor shield in their backpacks.

As people inside the educational community, like García, continue to push for gun control to keep would-be shooters from having access to weapons, it’s safe to say that drastic measures such as the one taken by Saint Cornelius Catholic School should not be the norm in the future.


Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr, Daniel Oines 

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