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Strength, Hugs, And Therapy Dogs: Stoneman Douglas Students Return To Classes For The First Time Since The Shooting

The survivors of the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting were greeted by large numbers of police officers and well-wishers as they resumed classes for the first time in two weeks.

Posted on February 28, 2018, at 11:42 a.m. ET

Students and survivors returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday morning as classes resumed for the first time since the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 of their classmates and faculty members dead.

Terry Renna / AP


Students wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Douglas Strong" and carried flowers as they made their way to school.

Terry Renna / AP

The school will hold classes for four hours a day this week — from 7:40 a.m. to 11:40 am — as part of a modified schedule giving students time to heal after the tragedy and regain a sense of normalcy even as many survivors continue their organized efforts to end gun violence and mass shootings in schools.

A total of 3,123 students returned to classes on Wednesday, making it an attendance rate of nearly 95%, according to Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. "It was like a family reunion," he said.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

"Today was a major milestone. We took a major step in the healing process as students returned to school and continued to be inspiring and show their resilience," Runcie said at a press briefing on Wednesday. Runcie said it was heartwarming to see students in the courtyard smiling and giving each other high fives and hugs.

Around 150 counselors and more than 40 therapy dogs were there to provide comfort and support to the grieving students.

So far, only 15 of 3,200 students have expressed interest in transferring to other schools, while four of 215 employees have asked about other employment options, Runcie said.

He described the week as one of "flexibility, support, and love."

"We know things will never ever be the same. We're trying to make sure we figure out how to move forward," he said.

Signs of strength, courage, and support were spotted all over campus.

First day back for students #msdstrong @WPTV

Students and teachers posted about what it was like being back on campus for the first time since the shooting.

The door I used to walk through every day now covered in a memorial. Welcome back, eagles.

Some students remembered faculty members, including assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who died while shielding students from the shooter.

I waved to Coach Feis every morning when I drove into the senior lot, yet I didn't even know his name until he died… https://t.co/pbTaesymSA

Astronomy teacher Brandon Kyle Jeter posted a photo with students, saying they were "reclaiming the nest," the call for the Eagles that resounded through the school.

Reclaiming the nest. #MSDStrong @JuncoScience @Emma4Change


Another teacher, Sarah Lerner, posted a photo of her class with their "borrowed therapy dog, Woody."

My first period class with our borrowed therapy dog, Woody.

Students began their classes with a 17-second moment of silence, one for each of the victims of the shooting.

Students tell me #StonemanDouglas started the first day back with a 17 second moment of silence, in honour of the 1… https://t.co/WRQrsL75a3

Principal Ty Thompson assured his students that the focus was on "emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum."

Looking forward to tomorrow Eagles! Remember our focus is on emotional readiness and comfort not curriculum: so the… https://t.co/kVPhNLevof

Thompson also greeted his students and others with a hug, living up to his vow to "hug each and every one of you as many times as you need" and "to hold you as long as you need me to, for all 3,300 of you and your families."

It was so good to get a hug from @PrincipalMSD and @MSD_Brace and to help welcome back the students and staff at MS… https://t.co/ZKkLZcK6a6

Large numbers of law enforcement officers from the community and around the country were there to welcome students and teachers who were making their emotionally fraught return to campus.

Police officers and supporters from around the country at MSD overwhelming.

Some officers held signs bearing messages of love and support as students walked to school.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Students have been told security at #StonemanDouglas will be at “an all time high” today... Departments from all su… https://t.co/pzt7ka3BxQ

The police department of Hollywood, Florida, said it was "an emotional morning as we stood shoulder to shoulder with surrounding law enforcement agencies to welcome students, teachers, and staff back to school."

An emotional morning as we stood shoulder to shoulder with surrounding law enforcement agencies to welcome students… https://t.co/R1LBfQWR2c

Security personnel high-fived students outside the school.

♥A @browardsheriff Deputy providing more than safety at this crosswalk outside #MarjoryStonemanDouglas #Parkland… https://t.co/AH0uPRDtDC

Well-wishers from the community, including those from other schools, turned out in droves to show their support for the students.

Thank you to everyone who gave me messages to write to the fine students of #MSD! @AnthonyPardal and I were able to… https://t.co/PpGiw4wsJg

People on Twitter sent messages of strength and support to the Douglas High community.

Good Luck to everyone returning to school today in Parkland 🧡We are with you. Change isn’t Coming. It’s Here. Never… https://t.co/8EBcnneTta

"You don't know me but I just wanted to extend my love, support and thoughts to you," one person said.

@PrincipalMSD You don’t know me but I just wanted to extend my love, support and thoughts to you, the students and… https://t.co/TI95LVQXHV

The presence of armed officers at the school was a stark reminder of the consequences that students and teachers will have to grapple with in the aftermath of the deadly rampage.

As students return to #MSDStrong ... 14 days after the massacre of 17 - this is the new security they'll see on cam… https://t.co/IZxsHZmx0Z

Runcie said that the school would continue to have an "enhanced security presence" but assured that it would not be overwhelming for students.

Many students expressed their mixed emotions about returning to school. In a tweet addressing her classmates on Tuesday, survivor Aly Sheehy said, "I'm not going to lie, I've been dreading going back to school tomorrow. It will be weird. I will most definitely cry. However, we will do it together. We can face this."

To my fellow classmates, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been dreading going back to school tomorrow. It will be weird… https://t.co/EUm6ZWq8cq

Another student said she was scared, nervous, and upset, but added, "I'm happy that I have my friends by my side through all of this."

I'm going back to school today and I'm scared, I'm nervous, I'm upset; I honestly feel every feeling you can name r… https://t.co/A1sydfvtWq

The founder of the #NeverAgain movement, Cameron Kasky, tweeted, "I've never anticipated a 6:00 AM alarm more in my entire life."

I’ve never anticipated a 6:00 AM alarm more in my entire life. #Positive #Passionate #PROUD TO BE AN EAGLE

Another student and activist, Jaclyn Corin, sent words of encouragement to her peers.

Just a little reminder before we go back to school tomorrow ❤️ #NeverAgain #MarchForOurLives

The father of two students who were returning to school said, "Today is a sad day but it needs to happen and it's here."

Today is a sad day but it needs to happen and it's here. My kids @tgiii_ and @madigoodman_ r heading back to school… https://t.co/M5yKwNhpOi


"I pray that today is the beginning of our long and difficult journey from grief, sorrow and anger to a new consciousness of hope, compassion and love," Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, said in a tweet Wednesday.

I pray that today is the beginning of our long and difficult journey from grief, sorrow and anger to a new consciou… https://t.co/Bzi95a0hxm

Christine Hunschofsky, the mayor of Parkland, thanked the school's administration for working to get the students back to school.

Thank you to everyone who came out from all over to welcome the students back to school! Thank you to the faculty,… https://t.co/FRfWcASOGd


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