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CMS board approves unloading 46,000 book bags, but superintendent doubts danger

Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh speaks at Tuesday's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting.
Ann Doss Helms
Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh speaks at Tuesday's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted unanimously Tuesday to put $442,000 worth of clear book bags up for surplus auction, a move that's unlikely to recoup much of the cost.

Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh opened the meeting with an update on safety measures taken in recent months. One item went unmentioned: His predecessor’s purchase of 46,000 clear backpacks, intended for distribution to all high school students.

And there was no discussion from the board before approving the surplus list, which also includes classroom furniture and old TV sets and computers. "These auctions usually generate $500 to $15,000 in revenue," the document says.

Former Superintendent Earnest Winston said the clear bags would deter students from bringing guns to school. He put that plan on hold in March when staff discovered warning tags, which are required in California, that indicated the bags could contain harmful chemicals.

In a March 2020 article, the New York Times noted that Proposition 65, which mandated the warning labels, passed more than 30 years ago. The tags became more common after new regulations came out in 2018, the article says. And it notes that the labels appear on innocuous items with only tiny amounts of chemicals on the list.

Hattabaugh, who replaced Winston in April, said after the board meeting he doesn’t believe there’s any real danger.

"There’s all kind of materials around us — cell phones, everything has similar materials," he said. "It just had to do with the tag that was on them, I believe, that created concern."

He said the decision to dispose of the bags was made before Winston was fired and he took over. And he said CMS might have to come up with a new plan, depending on how the auction goes.

"We’re going to go this route first and we’ll see if we have takers and then we’ll go from there," he said.

Anyone who wants a lot of clear book bags can check GovDeals.com, a site that auctions off government surplus items.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.