Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday returned to a more secure campus as they began their first new school year since a gunman killed 17 people in the freshman building. But some say they still won’t feel safe despite $6.5 million spent on security enhancements, including 18 safety monitors, new classroom locks and upgraded video surveillance.
All wore lanyards with IDs around their necks as they walked past a heavy police presence. Volunteers greeted them with German Shepherds, and a helicopter hovered overhead as a throng of media watched from across the street.
Three school resource officers, three security specialists and a dozen campus monitors will 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.
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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.
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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.”
Samantha Deitsch spent Tuesday night texting about first-day jitters with her friends and wondering what her teachers would be like. She got a new backpack and is grateful she’ll be sharing a lunch period with a few friends. 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.
Deitsch, also 15, spent the summer meeting with state lawmakers to advocate for gun safety, and says she’s grateful for the beefed-up security, but like Siccone, she says “there’s literally no place that I am every day that I feel 100 per cent safe and the thought doesn’t go through my head that someone could come in with a gun.”
The case against shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz continues in court, where the Broward County school board wants a judge to hold the South Florida Sun Sentinel in contempt, and other issues involving evidence and a trial date could come up at a Wednesday hearing.
The board claims the newspaper violated court orders by publishing details about Cruz’s educational background that were supposed to be redacted to protect his privacy. The newspaper contends the board had already exposed those details by mistakenly releasing them in a way anyone could see.