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Teachers, Staff Start Returning to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Friday For First Time Since Mass Shooting

"Our new normal has yet to be defined, but we want to get back to it," said geography teacher Ernest Rospierski

What to Know

  • Staff is not required to return and support personnel will be on hand to assist anyone needing help or counseling.
  • On Sunday, a voluntary orientation will take place on campus for students and their parents from 3 to 6 p.m. with support personnel as well.
  • All school staff will return Monday and Tuesday for planning days, while students will return on Wednesday with a modified scheduled.

Just over a week after 17 people lost their lives in the Parkland school tragedy, members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School staff began to return to the site of that horrific event.

The school reopened Friday so that employees can return, collect any belongings and enter their classrooms or offices for the first time since the Feb. 14 shooting. Staff members were not required to return and support personnel will be on hand to assist anyone needing help or counseling.

"Today is really just a day we're giving the teachers to come back in, to meet with each other, to spend a couple hours at the school, to receive any services and support that they need to," Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters outside the school Friday.

On Sunday, a voluntary orientation will take place on campus for students and their parents from 3 to 6 p.m. with support personnel in attendance as well. All school staff will return Monday and Tuesday for planning days, while students will return on Wednesday with a modified scheduled – classes from 7:40 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. for the rest of the week.

Runcie said staff have been working to get the school ready for returning students, cleaning, painting and making other repairs.

The freshman building on campus, where the shooting took place, will not reopen and will eventually be torn down and replaced with a new building on campus as well as a memorial at that building’s site. Broward County Public Schools recently asked for over $28 million in state funds to pay for that project.

Runcie said the building has been sealed off and is no longer accessible. Students who attended classes in the building will be placed in other school buildings.

Runcie said he also spoke with Broward Sheriff Scott Israel about officers carrying automatic rifles at the school as a precautionary measure.

"It is short term, it's interim. It's a recognition that we don't want to see any copycat incidents potentially occur, just really creating a heightened level of security presence in our schools," Runcie said. 

The Miami Herald reported that Assistant Principal Denise Reed stood at the school's entrance Friday. "It's great to see your smiling faces," she said, leaning into the driver's window of an arriving employee.

Teachers maneuvered their vehicles through a heavy police presence, orange cones blocking off parts of the road and a swarm of TV trucks and cameras. The school's flags flew at half-staff, and the parking lot was still full of bicycles left behind in a panic as students fled the shooting on foot.

"Good morning! Love you guys," Reed told a car full of teachers.

Two golden retrievers wearing blue service vests could be seen entering the building, likely therapy dogs for the teachers.

History teacher Ivy Schamis said she planned to put off her return until Monday, after processing all the funerals she attended over the last week and exploring the possibility of bringing a therapy dog.

"Give me another room and I'll teach," she said.

She had been teaching a class about the Holocaust when the shooter fired into her classroom. A big yellow banner stating "Never Again" had been hanging in her classroom even as students hid from gunfire beneath their desks.

Schamis wants the same banner hanging in her next classroom.

"That's a Holocaust banner and now that's what our slogan is becoming after this tragedy," she said.

As teachers returned, a group of students from Deerfield Beach held a large walkout to go to the school.

The community around the school continues to grapple with word that the armed officer on campus did nothing to stop the shooter.

That failure, plus reports of a delay in security camera footage scanned by responding police and several records indicating the 19-year-old suspect displayed behavioral troubles for years added to what the Florida House speaker described as an "abject breakdown at all levels."

The Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has reignited national debate over gun laws and school safety, including proposals by President Donald Trump and others to designate more people — including trained teachers — to carry arms on school grounds. Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, have redoubled calls for bans or further restrictions on assault rifles.

"Our new normal has yet to be defined, but we want to get back to it," said geography teacher Ernest Rospierski, whose classroom is on the third floor of the three-story building that was attacked.

The school resource officer on Feb. 14 took up a position viewing the western entrance of that building for more than four minutes after the shooting started, but "he never went in," Israel said at a news conference. The shooting lasted about six minutes.

The officer, Scot Peterson, was suspended without pay and placed under investigation, then chose to resign, Israel said. When asked what Peterson should have done, Israel said the deputy should have "went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer."

The sheriff said he was "devastated, sick to my stomach. There are no words. I mean these families lost their children. We lost coaches. I've been to the funerals. ... I've been to the vigils. It's just, ah, there are no words."

Runcie said Israel called him Thursday to tell him about Peterson's actions.

"I'm extremely upset, outraged, it's inexcusable. I was happy to see that the sheriff dealt with it swiftly," Runcie said.

A telephone message left at a listing for Peterson by The Associated Press wasn't returned. An AP reporter who later went to Peterson's home in a suburb of West Palm Beach saw lights on and cars in the driveway, but no one answered the door during an attempt to seek comment.

Meanwhile, new information has emerged that there was a communication issue between the person reviewing the school's security system footage and officers who responded to the school.

Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi said during a news conference Thursday that the footage being reviewed was 20 minutes old, so the responding officers were hearing that the shooter was in a certain place while officers already in that location were saying that wasn't the case. Pustizzi said the confusion didn't put anyone in danger.

Shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder and has admitted the attack, authorities have said. Cruz owned a collection of weapons. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him have described troubling incidents going back years.

Broward County incident reports show that unidentified callers contacted authorities with concerns about Cruz in February 2016 and November 2017. The first caller said they had third-hand information that Cruz planned to shoot up the school. The information was forwarded to the Stoneman Douglas resource officer. The second caller said Cruz was collecting guns and knives and believed "he could be a school shooter in the making."

Also in November 2017, Cruz was involved in a fight with the adult son of a woman he was staying with shortly after his mother died, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office report. On Nov. 28, a 22-year-old man at the Lake Worth home told the responding deputy the he tried to calm down Cruz, who had been punching holes in walls and breaking objects, but Cruz hit him in the jaw, and the man hit Cruz back.

The deputy found Cruz a short time later at a nearby park. Cruz told the deputy he had been angry because he misplaced a photo of his recently deceased mother, and he apologized for losing his temper.

The other man told the deputy he didn't want Cruz arrested. He just wanted Cruz to calm down before coming home.

Politicians under pressure to tighten gun laws in response to the mass shooting floated various plans Thursday, but most fell short of reforms demanded by student activists who converged Wednesday on Florida's Capitol.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Thursday night that his chamber is going to recommend creating a special commission to investigate the "abject breakdown at all levels" that led to the shooting deaths. The Republican said the commission, likely be led by a parent of one of the slain children, would have subpoena power.

Corcoran said the news about the resource officer's failure to respond did not dissuade him from moving ahead with what he was calling the "marshal" plan to let local law-enforcement officials train and deputize someone at the school who would be authorized to carry a gun.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, who is helping craft a bill in response to the shooting deaths, insisted the idea is not the same as arming teachers. He said the program would be optional and the deputized person would have to be trained by local law-enforcement agencies.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said a visit to Stoneman Douglas prompted him to change his stance on large capacity magazines. The Republican insisted he is willing to rethink his past opposition on gun proposals if there is information the policies would prevent mass shootings.

"If we are going to infringe on the Second Amendment, it has to be a policy that will work," Rubio said in an interview Thursday with AP.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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