Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students will resume classes Wednesday, forever linked to a nationwide debate over gun laws and mass shootings.
With their return, the students will be going back to the school two weeks after a gunman slaughtered 17 of their classmates and faculty members. They hid in closets, terrified and shaking, as gunman Nikolas Cruz roamed the halls and killed.
As the students return to their new reality, teachers hope to ease them back into some sort of normalcy, starting with a shortened four-hour class schedule.
“We’re expecting it to be a little crazy because — you don’t really know what to expect the first day you get back after something like this,” said Sawyer Garrity, 16.
“How do you react when something like this happens? There’s no code of conduct, there’s no rule book, no guidelines to follow, we’re all just guessing in the dark here.”
The night before resuming school, Isabel Barry played her guitar to calm her nerves. The thought of going back to school was reassuring in some ways.
“It’s going to be weird going to all my classes and maybe not seeing people there,” Barry said. “I have a friend who was in one of my classes … and now she’s not gonna be there anymore. It’s gonna be really really sad.”
Despite the anxiety, she said, it will be comforting to return to the one place where everyone is bound by a similar experience.
“We all had that moment of realization of what truly matters,” she said.
To get over her fears, she was having “a virtual sleepover” with her friend Garrity on Tuesday night. They left their phone videos on as they slept through the night.
They both didn’t want to be alone. Since the shooting, sleeping in the dark terrifies them.
Flowers on empty desks
The students will be walking into a school filled with grief counselors, comfort dogs and reminders of the tragedy all around them. For Hannah Karcinell, one of those reminders will be on the “MSD Strong” shirt she’ll have on.
Karcinell is part of a campus group that has been exchanging messages on how to get through the difficult days ahead.
While they don’t have many answers, she said the reunion will include lots of hugs.
“We’re all just talking about going back and seeing our teachers and hugging them, just hugging our classmates and just being together with everyone,” she said.
Karcinell said the students who were killed will be on their minds, and they plan to place flowers on their empty desks.
‘A little bit of normal’
Broward County officials planned the school’s opening in phases, with teachers and staff returning to work Monday and Tuesday, and classes resuming Wednesday. This week, the classes will be held for four hours, between 7:40 a.m. and 11:40 a.m.
“I’m happy to be going back in a sense because it’s going to be a little bit of normal that we can have again,” said Ashley Paseltiner, 16.
“We’ve all been getting through this together. Just trying to be there for each other. The people you were with in that moment are really the only ones who can fully understand what we went through.”
Building 12, where most of the carnage occurred, remains closed. Some have called for it to be demolished and a memorial built in its place.
A date for razing the building will be decided later. For now, it’s considered a crime scene, said Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools.
The students’ return will focus on emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum, so there’s no need for backpacks this week, Principal Ty Thompson said.
Security will be at “all-time high” when students return to campus, he said.
While Barry welcomes the added security, she said it may not make much of a difference.
“There’s going to be lots of security, which kinds of feels helpful,” she said. “But I don’t know how helpful it can possibly be because those guns killed my classmates. I don’t think anyone will ever change that feeling of being unsafe on campus.”
Demand for gun reform
Lina Crisostomo’s SATs are coming up soon, but college test preparation has taken a backseat to funerals, vigils and walkouts.
She’s been channeling grief into fighting the gun lobby since the February 14 shooting. The student-led movement made gains no one predicted, not even the students. Now, with classes set to resume, Lina and others worry about losing momentum.
“Homework doesn’t really seem that important now,” she said last week. “My attention has changed to fighting for these 17 lives.”
With the last day of the state’s legislative session set for March 9, the clock is ticking for lawmakers to make changes following the shooting.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced on Tuesday a $500 million investment in school safety, including metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks.
In Washington, the push for new regulation and significantly strengthened background checks appeared to lose political momentum.
President Donald Trump is set to meet with lawmakers Wednesday, the White House said.