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FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Ah, the first day back to school. The hustle and bustle of getting kids out the door and to their school before the bell rings for their first class.
For students returning to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the start of the new year marks the six month anniversary of the mass shooting which claimed 17 lives.
Many said they feel safer and it was easier to return now than it was when they had to return two weeks after the massacre.
“Sure I feel safe going back to school but I’m not less worried. I am worried about my friends who go to school a town over who don’t have 52 additional (security) cameras, who don’t have additional school resource officers and security officers,” said Lauren Hogg.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said schools implemented new security measures over the summer including creating single points of entry, large lockable gates across front entrances, additional fencing and new signage that will send visitors to the school’s welcome area to check in.
“Everyone in this district has always been focused on safety as our first priority. This year obviously we’ve taken that to a whole new level. We’ve done a lot in terms of improving security measures at the schools. Some of them you can see and there are lots of security measures that you can’t see. Those that you can see, I’ll tell you, we’ve enhanced our single point of entry work through a combination of fencing, doors, gates across all of our schools. We have worked to meet the goal of having a school resource officer or a guardian at every school. It’s going to be a challenge to do that early on because there are just not enough people, so we are working with our municipalities to make sure that we have coverage across the system,” said Runcie.
In compliance with the new Coach Aaron Feis School Guardian Program each school must have at least one School Resource Officer (SRO) or an Armed School Safety Officer on campus. When Broward schools learned they were short 13 officers to comply with the program, they reached out to Ft. Lauderdale police to cover those schools while more armed guardians are trained.
When asked why the district didn’t know there was a shortfall in armed officers until the eve of the first day Runcie responded,
“That was part of our planning so we’ve got plan A, B, C, and D and it’s going to take us a good part of this year to get to a stable type situation on staffing but that doesn’t mean we’re going to leave any school without an armed guardian or school resource officer,” he said.
Runcie said additional security measures include ID badges that will be worn by everyone on campus and code red drills will be more frequent.
Schools across the county are in the process of having camera systems upgraded or installed.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office is also putting in place new school security measures including the launch of a new app called “Safer Watch” that allows parents and teachers to send non-emergency text messages, videos, or pictures to law enforcement.
At Stoneman Douglas High, additional security measures included controlled access card readers, 2,500 new surveillance cameras and video system, and double the security detail.
“It’s not nearly enough,” said parent Steven Feuerman.
Feuerman said despite feeling that the school is safer he’s part of a vocal group who thinks the School Board and Runcie need to be ousted.
“Hell no, he’s definitely not doing his job,” Feuerman said referring to Runcie.
Some students returning to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are hopeful that returning to school can be a fresh beginning.
They also hope they can serve as an inspiration to others in the midst of tragedy.
“I think we all don’t want Parkland to be a dirty word anymore. We have to be careful when we say Parkland in public because people will be like (makes expression). We want Parkland to be a word that people feel inspired by that people understand that even though there was a tragedy here, there was something good that came out of it, and that can happen anywhere,” said Jaclyn Corin.
Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the shooting, sent out this tweet on the first day of school.
First day of school is not supposed to feel this way. Jaime was always most excited and I am missing her excitement today. I am so proud of @JesseGuttenberg. This year he will park in the senior lot and will have to walk by the building where Jaime was murdered 2 times per day.
— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) August 15, 2018
Runcie said the district is striving to balance security with providing a top quality education. The Superintendent plans to stop by several schools on the first day to personally welcome the students.
Broward is the sixth largest school district with more than 271-thousand students.