Six Months After Shooting, Stoneman Douglas Students Head Back to Class

Parkland has a new police captain and Stoneman Douglas has introduced a new, upgraded security system

A day after the six-month anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are heading back to class — and to heightened security measures, including controlled access card readers and new camera systems.

All the students wore lanyards with IDs around their necks as they walked past a heavy police presence Wednesday morning. Volunteers greeted them with German shepherds, and a helicopter hovered overhead as a throng of media watched from across the street.

Samantha Deitsch, 15, said she's grateful for the changes, but "there's literally no place that I am every day that I feel 100 percent safe and the thought doesn't go through my head that someone could come in with a gun."

Anijah Avera, 16, said she mostly doesn't think about the shooting except for "a little bit this morning... we have better security now so I feel a little more at ease."

Three school resource officers, three security specialists and a dozen campus monitors were set to be on patrol. They'll be keeping watch at new fences and gates at the beginning and end of the school day, to ensure that only staff and students wearing ID badges are allowed to enter.

Visitors will have only one way in, and they'll be screened through a video intercom system. The district had planned to add metal detectors but reversed course amid concerns over privacy and the impracticality of trying to clear thousands of students before each day's morning bell.

All classroom doors have new hardware that automatically locks when doors are pulled shut. Witnesses said teacher Scott Beigel and student Joaquin Oliver were fatally shot as they ushered students inside to safety, in part because the old hardware required relocking from the outside.

Many reminders have been removed from the campus, such as posters and memorials. But the freshman building still stands as a solemn reminder of the bloodshed, surrounded by a permanent new fence as prosecutors continue to use the crime scene for their legal case. The classes it once held have been diverted to nearly three dozen new portable classrooms.

Aria Siccone, 15, was there during the Valentine's Day rampage. She watched one of her classmates pounding on the classroom door, trying to flee the shooter, and remains haunted by his terror-stricken face moments before he was gunned down. The gunshots started shortly after he knocked, and they couldn't let him in. When a SWAT team later led her out of the building, she saw bodies in the hallway.

"I am happy to be able to see all of my friends, but I have been very anxious about returning to school," she said. "I'm scared of being at any school, not only Douglas, because I feel unsafe no matter how much security we have."

Deitsch, who spent her summer meeting with state lawmakers to advocate for gun safety, texted with her friends Tuesday night about first-day jitters and what their teachers would be like. She got a new backpack. She's grateful she'll be sharing a lunch period with some of them. But her friend Jamie Guttenberg, who was killed, won't be with them.

"The stress, the nerves, all that normal stuff is still there," she said. "It's like normal teenager stuff and at the same time it's not normal teenager stuff."

School Superintendent Robert Runcie said the school now has two wellness centers, along with a team of counselors, social workers and therapy dogs brought back at the students' request. "It feels like it happened yesterday, so there's a lot of emotion going on. It's still a challenging time for students and faculty."

Marcos Aguirre, 16, said he tries not to think about that day, and is trying to move forward.

"I like this school. I'm happy to be back," he said.

Security measures across all Broward County schools have been enhanced in the wake of the Parkland shooting. A new state law, for example, mandates that every school in Florida have at least one armed guard or school resource officer on every campus. To comply with that law, the Broward Sheriff’s Office is training former cops and military vets to patrol school grounds.

Security and safety enhancements also include 10,000 upgraded real-time surveillance cameras, a $5 million expansion of mental health services and the ID badges for students, staff and visitors.

Six months after the mass shooting, Parkland also has a new police captain.

"Everybody just wants to get back to the way things were or as close to that," said police Capt. Chris Mulligan. "And our job is to get out to the community and just try and reassure them as much as possible that what we are working for as well."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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