Parkland students return to school

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students return to school six months after the Parkland school shooting left 17 students and faculty members dead. CNN's Diane Gallagher reports from Parkland, Florida.

Posted: Aug 16, 2018 5:49 AM
Updated: Aug 16, 2018 6:04 AM

If Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were like any other school, you wouldn't think much of the freshly-painted burgundy hallways or the newly-installed 20-foot tall fences around the freshman building.

If this were a normal student body, the eyes of the nation wouldn't be trained on their every move, and their summer break stories wouldn't include a tally of rallies, summits, nationwide tours and TV appearances.

In any other place, in any other new school year, things would be as they were.

But when your school is also the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, nothing is ever really normal.

Those fences, covered with "MSD Strong" and "Parkland Strong" banners, surround the shuttered building where a former student opened fire almost exactly six months ago. Those hallways are the same ones students rushed through on Valentine's Day as the gunshots rang out across campus.

There are other changes, too.

The school's swimming coach is now the athletic director, because the former AD was among those killed that day. There are now two principals at MSD, because the basic demands of running a school are now joined by the demands of managing a community in crisis.

It's the little things like this; a change in paint color or a change in command, that reverberate outward like strange ripples, hinting at something bigger under the surface.

"We're going into it [the school year]," says English teacher Darren Levine, "knowing it will be a year unlike any other."

Small reminders linger in the ordinary

To Levine, the school itself doesn't appear all that different from when classes let out in the spring. There are some new gates at certain entry points, a smattering of new portable classrooms; nothing too out of the ordinary.

But what the bland classrooms don't immediately signify is that they are there to handle the overflow caused by the vacancy of building 12, where most of the victims were shot. It's not clear what will happen to the building, but the feeling around the community is that it'll eventually be torn down. Until then, it stands there like a mausoleum, empty and silent.

"I'm going into the year anticipating hardship, which is never a good lingering feeling," Levine says. "I'm psyched to get in there with the kids and move through the year in a way that will strengthen us all, but there's a bad feeling involved with being there."

If Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were like any other school, the collective nerves of returning students and staff would be predictable responses to a new year, not the complex expectations and questions of survivors returning to a crime scene.

Security concerns, and controversies, loom

Kai Koerber is one of the roughly 3,100 MSD students returning to school today. As a rising senior, he's looking forward to digging into AP Calculus classes and hopefully, somehow, enjoying the life of a regular high school student. He has high hopes that, while nothing can really be normal again, he and his fellow students will find some optimism.

"I think it was a strange feeling for everyone to come back [to the school after the summer]," he says. "But I also think that everyone, having seen the changes that have taken place since February 14th, has a renewed sense of hope for a better future and a better world."

Koerber is dismayed that the school decided not to install metal detectors, one of several proposed security measures considered over the summer. Ultimately, the school shelved the idea until it could train staff on how to properly use them.

It also discontinued the requirement of clear backpacks; a measure from last school year that prompted privacy concerns and dark-humored ridicule.

However, students will notice other changes. There are 52 new security cameras on campus, a new intercom system, and new door lock systems and four additional security personnel.

"All of these additions to our campus, although necessary, continuously serve as a reminder of the tragedy that happened at MSD," Kai says.

Students occupy uncommon roles

If Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were like any other school, its students and staff wouldn't be balancing their academic lives with the public ones they never asked for. But the day 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz barged into his former school with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15, they were pulled through a prism of identities: They became survivors, advocates, activists, leaders, mourners, celebrities, political figures and pariahs.

Seventeen became victims, whose memories serve as the bedrock of so many movements of love and change.

Looming over all of this, the school and the community of Parkland have become icons of the complex problem of gun violence in America.

It's a lot to shoulder, but that's what happens when a normal school is shaken by such a deeply abnormal act.

Some students are hoping a new school year will bring some much-needed balance. For many others returning to MSD, a public life of activism and leadership is now business as usual.

Over the summer, Koerber attended a leadership summit in New Zealand, spoke at a Business Insider panel in Cannes and interned in Washington, DC with his congressman, Ted Deutch.

Kyle Kashuv, another MSD survivor and rising senior, met with President Donald Trump over the summer and has become a regular commentator on conservative media outlets.

And of course, some of MSD's most visible activists; the David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, have graduated and are now quasi-celebrities in their own right.

For students like Koerber and Kashuv, who are trying to balance their lives as both students and newly minted agents of change, the constant attention is a price they are willing to pay for the cause.

"I believe that the way we all get through this is by not letting it become who we are," Koerber says. "In our case, tragedy will not stand in the way of triumph."

Political fabric is rewoven

If Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were like any other school, the upcoming Broward County school board elections would be another unremarkable piece of local politics.

Instead, they will be a referendum, a moment of truth for a community still reeling with grief and anger. Mourning parents have taken up the political mantle here, hungry for accountability from officials they say failed the students of MSD.

Stand with Parkland, a group formed by families of the victims, condemned the Broward County School Board earlier this month, saying the board was indecisive in implementing security measures and in following up on independent investigations.

On August 28, five of the nine embattled members of the Broward County School Board are up for re-election. Among those looking to take their seats are Lori Alhadeff and Ryan Petty. Alhadeff's daughter Alyssa and Petty's daughter Alaina were both killed in the Parkland shooting.

"February 14th changed my world and opened my eyes to the impact school district policies have on the safety and security of our students," Petty told the Orlando Sun-Sentinel of his campaign.

The truth is, the shooting didn't just change the worlds of MSD students or their families that day. It changed everything around them. The ripples it set off have become waves, far across the country and as close as the nearest Parkland voting booth.

As the school years go by, everyday details of hallways and fences and coaches and classes will fade back into a comforting monotony.

But Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School isn't like every other school. And as long as what happened there continues to matter, it never will be.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 116617

Reported Deaths: 3283
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7987178
DeSoto713479
Harrison527284
Jackson462285
Rankin398286
Madison383794
Lee360080
Forrest306978
Jones295784
Washington259299
Lafayette251343
Lauderdale2485135
Lamar227138
Oktibbeha202854
Bolivar201977
Neshoba1854111
Lowndes180262
Panola170240
Leflore168787
Sunflower163449
Warren155156
Monroe152173
Pontotoc147920
Marshall145329
Lincoln141157
Pike139256
Copiah138136
Scott125729
Coahoma125437
Grenada122639
Yazoo122634
Simpson121749
Union119225
Tate117739
Leake115242
Holmes114960
Itawamba114825
Pearl River114560
Adams108944
Prentiss106920
Wayne102022
Alcorn101112
George99919
Covington97927
Marion95443
Tippah91323
Newton86927
Chickasaw85726
Hancock85028
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84421
Tishomingo81641
Attala79726
Clarke76151
Clay70021
Jasper69117
Walthall64027
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59917
Smith59616
Montgomery55223
Yalobusha54914
Claiborne53816
Tunica53517
Lawrence52514
Perry49823
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47714
Humphreys44916
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41211
Webster37613
Benton3456
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32715
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27710
Franklin2463
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 159439

Reported Deaths: 2699
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23443377
Mobile16934315
Tuscaloosa10414140
Montgomery10298197
Madison939496
Shelby743663
Baldwin669469
Lee655065
Calhoun462161
Marshall441150
Etowah431251
Morgan418235
Houston418034
DeKalb346129
Elmore322753
St. Clair299942
Limestone289330
Walker282392
Talladega267435
Cullman250824
Lauderdale231342
Jackson217515
Autauga207431
Franklin206131
Colbert204132
Russell19533
Blount194225
Chilton189332
Dallas187227
Coffee179511
Dale177251
Covington175529
Escambia173030
Clarke135317
Chambers135244
Pike134413
Tallapoosa133087
Marion109729
Barbour10339
Marengo102522
Butler101340
Winston93713
Geneva9167
Lawrence86132
Pickens86018
Bibb84314
Randolph82916
Hale77730
Clay74912
Washington74912
Cherokee74514
Henry7196
Lowndes71428
Bullock64917
Monroe64810
Crenshaw60930
Perry5936
Fayette58413
Cleburne5738
Wilcox57012
Conecuh56113
Macon53720
Lamar5065
Sumter47321
Choctaw39212
Greene34616
Coosa2053
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
65° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 65°
Columbus
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 70°
Oxford
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 59°
Starkville
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 63°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather