A heavy police presence and a steady stream of well-wishers were on hand Wednesday morning as students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for the first day of classes since the shooting two weeks ago that killed 17 people and injured 15 others.
The Miami Herald reports that hundreds of off-duty officers from as far away as New York came to show support and provide a visual reminder that students and teachers are safe today.
Officers also passed out a thousand donated flowers to students.
“It’s just hard to have a sad face when someone hands you a flower,” says Rod Skirvin, vice president of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association. “Even if it’s just for the moment, it’s changed their day.”
The law enforcement officers weren’t the only ones supporting students. Esteban Castellanos, a 15-year-old student at Coral Glades High School, says he skipped class to bring his MSD Strong poster and “make sure no one feels scared to go back.”
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie says no formal classes are planned today or for the rest of the week. To ease the transition, the school will be open on an abbreviated schedule, from 7:40 to 11:40 a.m., and grief counselors are available.
“We’ll accommodate any student how they need to be accommodated,” Runcie says. “Our students need to be together. They need to be in school.”
Stoneman Douglas principal Ty Thompson tweeted Tuesday evening that students didn’t need to bring backpacks on the first day of classes. “Remember our focus is on emotional readiness and comfort not curriculum: So there is no need for backpacks. Come ready to start the healing process."
The Broward County district has provided teachers, at Stoneman Douglas and other campuses in the county, with information to help guide conversations about the shooting.
The freshman building where the shooting took place remains closed. The district plans to demolish the building and replace it with a memorial. Florida legislators have promised to provide resources to help the school district build new classrooms. In the meantime, school administrators have reorganized class schedules to accommodate the 900 students who attended class in the building.
Students who aren’t ready to return to Stoneman Douglas on Wednesday won’t be penalized, Runcie says. “Students that don’t show up, we’re going to reach out to them and see what we can do to help them,” he said.
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