By Ross Markman
It's 3:29 p.m. at Havre High School and the hallways are pretty much empty. In a minute, hundreds of students will spill out of their classrooms, in a mad rush to wrap up another day of learning.
A minute later, the bell rings.
Classes end, doors swing open and 680 teenagers flood the halls. Some stop to chat with friends or cuddle with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but most head straight to their lockers to fill their backpacks with a night's work.
The backpack is the educational toolbox many students at Havre High use to haul books, supplies, food and just about anything else during their four-minute jaunt from class to class.
Not next year.
The Havre school board Tuesday approved a change to its student handbook banning kids from using backpacks to shuttle their belongings between periods. The revision, which goes into effect in September, does permit students to carry backpacks to and from school, and to lunch.
"They're huge, the backpacks now. It seems like they get bigger," high school principal Jim Donovan said. "If you go into a classroom, every kid has one. And it's just amazing how cluttered up the hallways are."
But it's not just the amount of backpacks that has Donovan concerned. It's the safety hazard they can pose to others and the potential for theft they provide.
Donovan recalled a time he recently spent in the school's laptop computer lab a "small room already," he said.
"I was going around all the kids having them do certain things to see if the wireless lab was doing the right things," he said. "And I'm stepping over these things. They're all over the aisles."
As for stealing, Donovan said it's not a consistent problem, but is an issue with backpacks.
"Anything we can do to curtail that, we'd like to be a little proactive," he said.
School board president Jim Heberly agreed.
"It's just harder to control with backpacks what's going in and what's going out of the school. This is a little preventative medicine, so there won't be a problem," Heberly said.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the policy. Heberly doesn't expect much opposition.
Two years ago when the district began using dogs at the high school for random drug searches, he said, few people were opposed.
"Running the dogs through was way more controversial than this, and no one showed up at our meeting then," Heberly said.
"I think the biggest problem here is getting from one end of the school to the other in time," he added, since students will have to stop at their lockers more often. "The school will have to experiment with that."
Lacey Cote, a Havre High freshman, agreed. The four minutes of exchange time between classes may need to be increased, she said.
"I think it's going to stink. You carry just about everything in your backpack," she said. "I have trouble just getting stuff in and out of it."
Haily Donoven, also a ninth-grader, said although she doesn't agree with the new policy, four minutes should be sufficient.
"I don't necessarily like it. It would be kind of a hassle. It's a lot easier for me to carry my stuff with me," Donoven said. "But it should be enough time to get from class to class."
Cote and Donoven are only one year removed from Havre Middle School, which outlawed backpacks three years ago, principal Vance Blatter said.
"It became a safety issue for the kids and teachers in the classrooms," Blatter said. "I don't remember hearing any complaints when we started this."
Levi Briese, a Havre High junior, said that could be different at the high school level.
"People just don't like change," he said. "But I don't have a problem with a change in the rule."
Briese attended Tuesday's school board meeting. Thursday, he conducted a little experiment. Rather than lugging his backpack with him all day, Briese stopped at his locker when necessary to unload and pick up supplies.
"I was able to make it to every class on time," he said.
"In my classes, there are tons of backpacks in the aisles for people to trip over," Briese added. "The only good thing you'll miss (by forbidding backpacks) is maybe when you forget something for class."
Donovan said he's prepared for some student opposition, but anticipates it will be minimal.
"I don't think the kids will necessarily like it. We'll have to just take a look and do some adapting," he said. "But we have a big class coming in next year. And it will just be business as usual for them."