The so-called "safety shields" were donated to the school by Unequal Technologies, a manufacturer that typically sells sports equipment, but has been developing backpack shields in response to the recent uptick in school shootings in the US. Unequal Technologies President Rob Vito handed out the shields to the students during the graduation ceremony.
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"Handguns are useless against a product like this," Vito told the graduating students during the Monday graduation ceremony. "Shotguns are useless against a product like this."
The thin shield is a 10-by-12-inch plate that can be placed into a backpack to deflect bullets. The bulletproof backpack plates were also given to 25 faculty members at the school.
The technology is a development of other blunt force absorption and body protection pads the company makes, which includes catcher's chest shields for baseball players and upper body armor for lacrosse players, according to the company website.
"I'd never thought I'd need this," one student told local news station Fox 29.
"You hear about these school shootings almost weekly, and I can't believe that's where we are in our nation today, but that's the fact," one great-grandparent who was at the graduation event told Fox 29.
St. Cornelius already has strict security protocols in place to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the campus or moving about freely if they do. Security measures include checking visitors' driver's licenses at the front door and running them through a computer database to check for criminal records; any visitor with a questionable record is prohibited for entering. In addition, all the classrooms have extra deadbolt locks.
"Anything that we can do to protect our children and our staff, that's what we have — that's my job, to try to protect them and I try to do the best I can," St. Cornelius Principal Barbara Rosini said during the event.