Bulletproof products rising among teachers, students in schools

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It's a new addition to the back-to-school shopping list: the bulletproof backpack.

"I just outfitted a kindergartner today," said Rob Slattery of Impact Armor Technologies, when reached by phone.

The Cleveland-based company is one of a few companies in the United States that are designing and marketing bulletproof products to students and teachers in schools.

Impact Armor, which also offers bulletproof desktop calendars and bulletproof whiteboards, inserts lightweight, woven kevlar panels into a regular backpack to make it bulletproof. Costs to create the bulletproof backpack, which weights only about a pound more than a regular backpack, range from $100 to $110.

"This is just a product you can purchase to help yourself be a harder target," said Mr. Slattery, a former police officer.

The company, started in 2006 to produce parts for heavy armor, has seen demand increase sharply for the backpack, especially since late last year, when a gunman entered a school in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 students and six adults.

"It's really, really growing by leaps and bounds," said Mr. Slattery, a demand he said is driven because "people have finally opened their eyes that bad things happen."

Recently, he said, his company has been getting calls from attorneys, looking for bulletproof inserts for their briefcases or leather binders.

It's not clear, however, how many parents are outfitting their kids for the return to school this fall.

The National Retail Federation, which compiles a survey of back-to-school trends, had no information on school safety devices, such as the backpack or calendar. A spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Public Schools said she had not heard of any parents buying the backpacks.

Indeed, the backpacks, intended to evoke a feeling of safety, may end up having the opposite effect.

"I think that anytime your kids have to wear bulletproof gear, it's probably a bad thing," said Gary Swanson, a child and adolscent psychiatrist at Allegheny General Hospital. "It implies a level of anxiety."

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.

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