GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Parents and students at Grand Rapids Public Schools will notice several changes this school year as the district implements increased security and support for scholars.

One of the biggest changes is the removal of the backpack ban. Backpacks were banned from all GRPS buildings last May after a 3rd grader was found with a loaded gun at Stocking Elementary. The district had four total incidents involving students bringing guns to school during the 2022-23 school year. 

District leaders said the decision to allow backpacks again was a result of feedback from students and parents, including a survey sent out to GRPS families.

“As we went through the summer, we talked with scholars, we talked with families, we held a couple of safety forms just to get additional feedback, and we really want to make sure that we are providing the resources and support for our families and not cause an extra burden,” said GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby.

Clear backpacks are encouraged, especially for younger students, but not required. Roby also urges parents to keep an eye on what their kids bring to and from school and have regular conversations about school safety.

Additional safety measures implemented by GRPS include awareness training for staff and parents, prevention programs for students, and the addition of more mental health support staff. Students will also see increased random weapon screenings.

“We are excited to implement and enact safety measures. We’ve been really thoughtful about how will this impact our scholars and our staff, and we want to continue to build positive relationships with our scholars and staff and then also make sure that we have the technical components to help keep schools safe,” Roby said.

Chief of staff and executive director of public safety Larry Johnson said building hardware will continue to improve as they assess the safety and security of each school.

“We’ve made a significant investment in secured entryways at all of our schools to make sure that how we enter our buildings, we can control the entrances. There have been some camera upgrades at some of our buildings, so a lot of hardware, but more importantly, we think the hardware is probably going to be the most significant,” Johnson said. 

GRPS plans to continue its scholar forums and awareness training for parents and teachers. The district is also expanding its Social and Emotional Learning Program to all elementary and middle school students.

“School Safety is everybody’s business, not just that of the school safety officials, but we have to get our community involved, our scholars involved, our parents involved, as well as our staff.”

Johnson added that although there is a large focus on safety inside the buildings themselves, it’s also important to make sure students are getting to and from school safely.

“I want people to be reminded that over 150 buses will be moving around this community starting today, and as our scholars are excited to come back to school, they may not be looking both ways before they cross, so we want to encourage parents to get our babies to school safe, but we want to encourage our community to slow down,” Johnson said. “If the speed limit is 25, let’s back it down to about 20, 15 so that our kids can get to school safe.”

District leaders said they plan to continue having conversations with students, staff, and families to discuss how everyone as a community can continue to work together to make schools safer.