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Oh, their aching backs

Molly Shore

When Roland Armstorff’s 10-year-old daughter, Genevieve, carried

books and supplies to Bret Harte Elementary School last year, the

backpack she was wearing was so heavy it hurt her shoulders.


“The backpack weighed more than she did,” Armstorff said recently.

“When your daughter is the smallest one in the class, you just have

to do something about those backpacks.”

Armstorff’s answer was to outfit Genevieve with a rolling


backpack, one she pulls along on wheels.

But school personnel, he said, do not recommend using these types

of backpacks because of concerns that children will trip over them.

However, the rolling pack was the only solution to the heavy load his

daughter had to take to school each day, so he insisted that she be

allowed to use it.

While there is no districtwide policy regarding the use of

backpacks, individual schools can set policies for their students,


said LeeAnn O’Toole, assistant to Supt. Gregory Bowman.

There are no hard and fast rules at Bret Harte Elementary School,

but Principal Diane Berger said students are asked not to bring

rolling backpacks to class.

“We discourage rolling backpacks because kids trip over them,”

Berger said. “If a parent calls and says that the pediatrician wants

their child to use one, [it’s OK].”

Since Burbank and Burroughs high schools no longer have lockers,


duplicate books in all core subjects are assigned to students, said

Alexis Sheehy, assistant superintendent of instructional services.

Because students have one set of books in their classrooms and a

duplicate set at home, it is unnecessary for them to carry heavy

textbooks to school every day, she said.

“There have been no complaints [about back problems] at the

secondary level in the three years I’ve been here,” she said.

Dr. Stephan Yacoubian, an orthopedic surgeon at Providence St.

Joseph Medical Center, supports Armstorff’s decision.

“I generally recommend a little roll-along pack,” Yacoubian said.

“You can carry the exact same weight with a lot less strain on your


Yacoubian said he has treated patients who come to him with

problems they’ve developed after wearing overloaded backpacks.

“Generally, the patients I’ve seen are young girls on the thin

side,” he said. “They generally complain of shoulder or upper back

pain or neck pain. When you question them, it’s apparent they’re

carrying five to six big textbooks in the backpack all the time.”

Yacoubian suggests that students keep duplicate textbooks at home,

eliminating the need to carry them in their backpacks.