The policy takes effect today.
``We're reacting to that, not to the Littletons or the Conyerses,'' Pennsauken Superintendent Harold Kurtz said, referring to shootings at schools in Colorado and Georgia. ``We're reacting to something that happened in our own school that was, of course, of great concern to us, and a bit of a shock.''
The boy did not threaten anyone with the guns, and in fact kept them in his backpack during school, Kurtz said. Students told school officials that the boy had wanted to show them off later.
But realizing that he had taken weapons into the building was enough to prompt the backpack restrictions, Kurtz said.
``This will signal to the parents and their kids that we are concerned about their safety,'' he said. ``If this could reduce even in the most minimalistic way any sort of problem for them, then it's worth doing it.''
Some parents had been lobbying the school board well before last week's incident to ban book bags in the halls between classes at Phifer, said Donna Zuber, a PTA member who has two children at the middle school.
The school is badly overcrowded, and the bulky backpacks make it harder for students to get through the halls. When students bump into each other, fights occasionally break out, Kurtz said. Keeping backpacks in lockers may help ease the congestion.
For reasons of overcrowding, not safety, several other districts in the region banned backpacks years ago. For example, the Kingsway Regional School District forbids students in junior high or high school from carrying book bags during the day, as does Bucks County's Newtown Junior High School.
In the early 1990s, schools around the country began banning backpacks or requiring them to be transparent in response to fears about gang-related violence, said a New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman, Frank Belluscio.
At Phifer, the ban will last until the end of the school year, Kurtz said. Kenneth Trump, a school safety consultant, will visit Pennsauken this week to survey the district's security, and the Board of Education may make the backpack rule permanent if Trump recommends it, Kurtz said.
The school board will also conduct a hearing this week to decide how to discipline the boy who took the guns to school. He was given a 10-day suspension last week. Board members said they will try to ensure that he does not return to Phifer.
The district sent letters explaining the new policy home with students last week and also mailed copies. Parents have been very receptive, Zuber said.
While the change will require students to plan more - taking books and papers they need for their morning classes from their lockers before first period, then picking up material for their afternoon classes after lunch - parents and administrators said they believe the measure is worth the inconvenience.
``I think it's a policy whose time has come,'' Zuber said. ``In today's society, unfortunately, we have to look at things a little differently. I'm definitely backing the school board on this.''