PARKLAND (CBSMiami/AP) – Two weeks after a deadly mass shooting rocked their schools and changed their lives forever, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland head back to class.
Wednesday morning a long line of cars lined up in front of the school to drop off students an hour before classes were scheduled to begin.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said 95% of the student attended school Wednesday and only 15 students, so far, had requested information on transferring out of the school.
As students arrived earlier in the day, about 50 uniformed officers were on hand to greet the students and provide an atmosphere of safety.
“This is a picture of education in fear in this country. The NRA wants more people just like this, with that exact firearm to scare more people and sell more guns,” said David Hogg, who has become a leading voice in the students’ movement to control assault weapons. “I know one of those bullets could be shredding through me if I was misidentified as a school shooter.”
Members of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association handed carnations out to students as they entered the school.
“This is not a day that’s focused on the curriculum and learning of a traditional school day, it’s a day of unification, it’s a day to unite the Marjory Stoneman Douglas family so everyone can get together and begin to work through the healing process. It’s going to be a long and difficult one so we can get back to some sort of normalcy. The students need to be with each other and be in school, our teachers love our kids so that’s going to help everyone,” said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Classes lasted from 7:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. and that schedule through the rest of the week.
Casey Sherman, a 17-year-old junior, thinks the schedule was a good idea so kids can “get it over with,” and not worry about it all day. Up until 11:30 p.m. working on preparations for the March 14 national school walkout against gun violence, she said she’s not afraid to be returning, “just nervous.”
“We did go through a tragedy,” said Sherman, who walked in holding hands with her boyfriend. “It was terrible but if you let it stop you … it’s not how you go down, it’s how you get back up.”
Then she saw all the officers.
“Oh, wow, there are a lot of police,” she said as she pulled up to the entrance. “Oh my goodness, yeah that is a lot.”
Jesse Vandereems was on the third floor of the building where the shooting happened said going back for the first time was ‘okay’.
“I guess you could describe it as okay but I’m gonna miss the people who I knew,” said Vandereems.
Many of the students said the focus of the national debate on new gun laws has helped them process the traumatic event, and prepared them to return to the scene.
Alexis Grogan, a 15-year-old sophomore, was nervous going back — like it might be too soon to go on as usual without slain friends like Luke Hoyer, who sat two seats behind her in Spanish. But their fight to strengthen gun control laws have buoyed her spirits.
“I am so proud of how the kids at my school have been fighting because we all want change to happen and, as we see the progression, it really shows us that people do care and they do hear what we have to say,” Grogan said in a text message.
Eleventh-grader Samantha Grady, 17, was shot in the chest and grazed on the back. She said although she was very nervous to return, she said it was something she felt she had to face.
“Thankfully, the one thing that I was like, even if I had to skip, I was never going to go back in the freshman building. But thankfully, we don’t have to. So I don’t have to be put into that situation. But just going back into the same classroom, not classroom, but with the same people, in missing two. That’s going to be hard to adjust to,” she said.
For Madison Geller, returning Wednesday offered an opportunity to get back into a routine, in spite of her fears.
“When I walk in there, I’m going to replay the whole thing in my head. But we have to come here and try to learn,” the high school junior said. “This week we will try to be comfortable and get back into the same routine.”
Tuesday night Stoneman Douglas High Principal Ty Thompsom tweeted out a message of support.
Looking forward to tomorrow Eagles! 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 and #RECLAIMTHENEST 🦅🦅🦅🦅
— Principal Thompson (@PrincipalMSD) February 27, 2018
Wednesday morning, Thompson tweeted:
Good morning Eagles: here is today’s schedule. Everyone will start in 4th Block as we RECLAIM the NEST pic.twitter.com/wxQYnemIWi
— Principal Thompson (@PrincipalMSD) February 28, 2018
Building 12, where the shooting took place, is closed to students. Students who had classes in Building 12, where the shooting took place, were placed in other parts of the campus.
“I have three, maybe four classes in that building, it’s a place I’ve gone into every day for the past three years and to see it, was very weird, very surreal,” said student Emily Melamed.
The county plans to ask the state legislature for funds to tear it down and build a new classroom building on the campus.
The school district had plenty of counselors on hand, about 150, at the school for any student, teacher, or staff member needs to talk. They also had about 40 therapy dogs, according to Runcie.
The superintendent said while it is a difficult time, they continue to be inspired by their students.
‘We’ve seen the worst of humanity but we’ve also seen that followed by incredible acts of humanity,” said Runcie. “We continue to be inspired and amazed by our students.”
For those needing counseling, these are just some resources offered by Broward schools: browardschools.com/crisissupport
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)