Students in Pennsylvania were given an unorthodox graduation gift as they left 8th grade and headed to high school: bulletproof shields to slip into their backpacks.
As if starting high school didn’t come with enough anxiety, a local company gave all 8th-grade graduates of St. Cornelius Catholic School, in Chadds Ford, a ballistic shield to slip into their backpacks as a sort of “welcome to high school” gift. Twenty-five plates were also given to school faculty.
Jim Caldwell, the executive vice president of Unequal Technologies, told VICE News that the company started creating Safe Shields about 45 days ago after the school’s principal asked for them. Unequal’s CEO, Rob Vito, has a daughter who attends St. Cornelius.
“This principal was sort of a catalyst,” Caldwell told VICE News.
Principal Barbara Rosini was not immediately available to comment, but she told the local Fox News station that even though she believes the chances of a shooter targeting her school are small, she wants to protect her students and staff.
“Anything that we can do to protect our children and our staff, that’s what we have — that's my job, to try to protect them, and I try to do the best I can,” Rosini told the news outlet.
But it’s unclear how helpful these inserts will be. Caldwell said while they protect from handguns, shotguns, and knives, they don’t protect students from all weapons, like AR-15s, which can fire bullets at a much higher velocity.
And Aaron Westrick, an armor expert with the Ballistic Armor Research Group, told ABC News earlier this year that inserts like these aren’t very helpful, because semi-automatic handguns are so commonly used by mass shooters.
“The chances of a ballistic backpack coming into play during an attack or saving a child from injury are slim,” Westrick told the news outlet, adding that for a backpack to withstand assault-weapon fire, it would need to be very heavy, and built with steel or titanium.
“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.”
Unequal’s inserts weigh just about one pound, are a quarter of an inch thick, and don’t take up much space. Caldwell said that in an active shooter situation, a child could crouch behind their backpack and use it as a shield, or wear their bag as they run away from the shooter. He added that while they donated all of these inserts to St. Cornelius, for parents to buy them individually they cost $149.95. If a school wants to buy them in bulk, they’re $99.95 each.
“Hopefully there’s never an application for this technology ever again, but that might not happen,” Caldwell said. “It’s the weight of the world that asked us to step up and we’re hopeful that word gets out and [parents can] send their child to school and see them after school.”
Cover image: Students wear clear backpacks outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Monday, April 2, 2018. Extra security is one of a number of security measures the school district has enacted as a result of the Feb. 14 shooting at the school that killed 17. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)