Clear bags are given out to 2018 NCAA Final Four attendees for security purposes.
Attendees carry clear bags at the 2018 NCAA Men's Final Four at the Alamodome. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In a letter sent Tuesday to North East Independent School District families, Athletic Director Karen Funk announced the district would add an unprecedented new layer to its already stringent security policies at the district’s central athletic complex.

Starting in the fall, guests attending games at NEISD athletic venues will be required to follow a clear-bag policy, a security measure also used at the Alamodome.

The policy is unusual among Texas school districts, according to D.W. Rutledge, executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association. He said that NEISD is the first district he knows of to implement such a policy.

The new policy prohibits camera bags, large purses, backpacks, computer bags, coolers, or luggage of any kind. The only approved bags are small clutches, about the size of a person’s hand, or clear totes and storage bags.

“The overriding purpose was to improve our security, but with that increase in security measures, there was also the hope that we would give our customers confidence that they could safely enjoy our sport and athlete events,” Funk wrote in the Tuesday letter.

However, NEISD has not had any violent incidents or arrests at any of its sporting events in the past three years, spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor told the Rivard Report.

A survey of local districts by the Rivard Report showed no other Bexar County school districts currently have such a policy.

Funk’s announcement comes two years after NEISD, which serves 67,000 students, added gate security measures at the district’s athletic arenas that requires guests to walk through metal detectors, have their bags inspected, and in some cases undergo metal detector wanding.

Rutledge said adding metal detectors and wanding is more common than the bag policy, but it is still unusual for school districts, which have athletic venues with far smaller seating capacity than the 64,000-seat Alamodome or NFL stadiums, where clear-bag policies originated in 2013.

“You see it more at the [professional] level, but not very often at high schools,” Rutledge said. “I’m sure it is just a trickle down effect [from bigger stadiums] … so it makes sense for such a large district.”

Whereas metal detectors and wanding come at an expense to the district, enforcing the use of clear bags does not cost the district anything, Rutledge said. The cost of obtaining a clear bag is put on the guest.

Funk said the new policy would streamline security measures and increase the speed of entry to games.

The clear-bag policy and other bag restrictions are already in place at two arenas in the city, including the Alamodome. The Alamodome’s policy took effect in June 2017. The AT&T Center, with a seating capacity of more than 18,000 for San Antonio Spurs games, limits the size of bags and prohibits backpacks but does not require clear bags.

NEISD officials said that the district changed its policy, in part, to align its policy with professional stadiums, but also due to recent events, such as the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that have highlighted the issue of student safety nationwide this past year.

“We are always talking about safety and how we can possibly improve it, and obviously there were a couple of events this year that makes it kind of more forefront of the conversation,” Chancellor said. “But it is something that we discuss with everything.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.