(PARKLAND, Fla.) — Wednesday marked a “bittersweet day” for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who returned to class for the first time since the February massacre, the superintendent said.
“Everyone’s glad to get back and be reunited,” Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “But it’s six months away from the tragedy, which feels like it happened just yesterday.”
Seventeen students and staff were killed in the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas. The alleged shooter, a former student, was arrested.
“A lot of emotions going on,” Runcie continued Wednesday. “It’s still a challenging time for many of the students and faculty.”
The district is providing “an enormous amount of support” to returning students, according to the superintendent, including counselors, social workers, behavior therapists and therapy dogs.
Ahead of the new school year, security at Stoneman Douglas was “significantly enhanced,” Runcie said, including permanently doubling security staff, updating and adding more surveillance cameras and adding and upgrading intercom systems.
More fences were also added and classroom doors will now lock automatically, he said.
Beyond Stoneman Douglas, the school district is increasing the number of mental health counselors and social workers and enhancing its threat assessment teams, the superintendent said.
Runcie stressed that the more important element is to have “discipline around how we enforce protocols at the school.” Manning the campus gates when they are open and locking the gates when school is in session are part of it.
Although the district now plans to hold active assailant drills at least once a month at its schools, Runcie said, Stoneman Douglas students will be notified ahead of time about the drills that may bring up traumatic memories.
As Stoneman Douglas sophomore Lauren Hogg returns to class, she told ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast that school is “never going to be normal again.”
Hogg, 15, is one of the Stoneman Douglas students-turned-activists who launched a youth-led movement to push for gun reform.
“I wish we didn’t have to experience this new normal,” Hogg said. “I can’t help but constantly think about not only myself and my friends at my school, but constantly thinking about my friends at other schools who don’t have as many safety precautions as we now do, and I worry about them.”
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