8th graders given ballistic shields as 'welcome to high school' gift

Members of the outgoing 8th-grade class at St. Cornelius Catholic School in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, each received a graduation gift that reflects the troubled times: bulletproof shields for their backpacks.

Unequal Technologies, a sportswear company based in a nearby Philadelphia suburb, donated the 10-by-12-inch plates to each of the students as they prepared to break before starting high school.

“It’s sad the times have called for such a product to be invented, but we have answered the call,” Unequal CEO Robert Vito said at an assembly covered by local news.

The backpack plates, a new offering from a company known for protective sportswear, have been shown to resist ammunition, including a 9 mm full metal jacket round, a .44 Magnum round, and birdshot fired from a 12-gauge shotgun, the company said. They’re about a quarter-inch thick, weigh 20 ounces and also protect against shrapnel and knife attacks.

“I never thought I’d need this, no,” Jacob Nicosia told Fox29.

The students, seated in rows flanking Vito at the assembly, were caught on camera with unsmiling expressions.

Vito’s daughter attends St. Cornelius, a private school that offers kindergarten through 8th grade in quiet Chadds Ford, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. Principal Barbara Rossini reportedly asked whether his company could develop a product for schools.

“Anything that we can do to protect our children and our staff ― that’s my job, to protect them,” Rossini told Fox29. “I have to do the best I can.”

The company also gave 25 of the “Safe Shield” plates, which retail for $149.95, to faculty members. Schools can purchase the shields for $99.

Vito said during the assembly that handguns and shotguns are “useless against a product like this” and demonstrated how it could be used to stop bullets.

The donation comes amid a national debate over how to prevent gun violence in schools, which have been plagued recently by near-weekly shootings.

In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people, students are now required to use clear backpacks as a safety precaution.

More on the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:

Many Parkland students have advocated passionately for comprehensive gun policy reform since the massacre. But lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, have countered with plans to place more guns in schools as a protective measure.

After a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas took 10 lives last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) argued for increasing law enforcement presence at schools and monitoring social media more closely.

The plates are an alternative to bulletproof backpacks, which have garnered renewed interest in schools around the country in recent months.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.