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Students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Wednesday morning for the first day of classes since the school shooting two weeks ago that killed 17 people and injured 15 others.
To ease the transition, students will attend classes on an abbreviated schedule, from 7:40 to 11:40 a.m. Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said there will be additional counselors and law enforcement on campus, as well as therapy dogs. Although classes will be held, students will also have the option of visiting counselors during the school day.
“It’s not going to be your typical day,” Runcie said Tuesday. “We’re going to try to accommodate students as much as possible understanding that they’re still grieving, they’re still dealing with trauma, so we’ve got to create space to be able to do that.”
The Broward school district has provided teachers with information to help guide conversations about the shooting, both at Stoneman Douglas and across the county, Runcie said. Teachers returned to Stoneman Douglas for the first time on Friday for a meeting and a question-and-answer session with the principal. They were also back on the campus on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the students’ arrival.
The freshman building where the shooting took place remains closed. The school district plans to demolish the building and replace it with a memorial. Florida legislators have promised to provide resources to help the school district build new classrooms. In the meantime, school administrators have reorganized class schedules to accommodate the approximately 900 students who attended class in the building.
Students who aren’t ready to return to Stoneman Douglas on Wednesday won’t be penalized, Runcie said. “Students that don’t show up, we’re going to reach out to them and see what we can do to help them,” he said.
Returning to the scene of the tragedy two weeks later can be psychologically fraught for some kids, but for most children it’s actually helpful, said Jonathan Comen, the Director of the Mental Health Interventions and Technology Program at Florida International University.
“After traumatic events, we typically encourage families and schools to return to their familiar structure and daily routines as quickly as possible,” he said. “Familiarity goes a long way in fostering a sense of return to normalcy and predictability.”
The quicker students and teachers can get back to normal, the better, Comer said. It’s helpful and reassuring for children to know the tragedy hasn’t changed everything. Abruptly transitioning, as in the case of students who have new classroom assignments now that their old ones are part of a crime scene, could add to student stress and possibly prolong their emotional recovery.
For some kids, being back on campus may cause post traumatic stress symptoms, including feelings of fear, helplessness, horror or reliving the trauma over again.
“It will be critical to have child trauma experts on-site to support students as needed with the wide range of reactions that may emerge,” Comer said.