Therapy dogs and armed guards: Parkland students return to school

PARKLAND, Fla. — As Marjory Stoneman Douglas students entered their classes for the first time in two weeks, a golden retriever in a purple vest named Lola offered wet kisses and cuddles.

Students took out their phones to send videos of Lola to their friends on Snapchat. “Therapy dogs,” one wrote over a video of several students petting the panting animal, adding two emojis with hearts for eyes.


Stoneman Douglas students return to school
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In some classrooms, students sent Snapchat videos of their classmates marveling at Nintendo games they had been allowed to play. Elsewhere, a group of teens sat in a circle and passed around an orange jar of candy while a white dog weaved through stretched legs.

One clip even showed a classmate teasing senior David Hogg, 17, now known for his vocal gun reform advocacy, for being the at the center of a “crisis actor” internet conspiracy theory.

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Students return to Stoneman Douglas High School as gun debate rages
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“Like, he’s not even supposed to be in our school. He’s, like, 25, and he’s from California even though he’s my debate partner. What the hell?” a student can be heard joking as he zooms in on Hogg’s face. Hogg, who smirks and replies, “Shocking.”

Photos: Parkland students return to classes under heavy police presence

One Snapchat selfie simply said, “We back.”

After weeks of gun reform rallies, marches to Florida’s capitol and mourning the loss of the 17 people killed on Feb. 14, the students documented their day on the video-sharing app. But the more than 40 therapy dogs, video games and candy were just some of the new addition to Stoneman Douglas.

Others included armed law enforcement and a large police presence.

It’s a culmination of action intended to make the students feel safe as they returned to classes on Wednesday for the first time since the massacre.

Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Wednesday that an armed law enforcement presence would remain at the school for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think the solution is to turn our schools into prisons and build armed fortresses, but yes, we do need to enhance security,” Runcie said.

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As the more than 3,100 students streamed back, droves of adults holding signs and wearing burgundy “Douglas Strong” T-shirts lined the sidewalks and cheered them on. Police officers and teachers hugged the incoming teens. The school had a 95% attendance rate. Fifteen students and four employees have signaled interest in transfers.

But for some parents, there would be no return to the life they knew before Feb. 14.

Related: Parkland shooting victim Maddy Wilford speaks out following hospital release

Fred Guttenberg’s 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed, but on Wednesday, his son Jesse returned to campus. Guttenberg said the school’s reopening was bittersweet.

His household has become quieter since Jaime died, he said and his family was learning to live with the new normal.


Broward County Sheriff officers welcome students as they arrive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to attend classes for the first time on Feb. 28, 2018. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

“I’m making him go. In my family the basic belief is that you can’t stand back and be afraid. You have to power through and face things. And, you know what, coming back to school today is the big first step,” Guttenberg said.

Other parents who lost children returned to the school, vowing to make sure nothing like the Parkland shooting happened again.

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“I’m like a lion, and I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to make sure every school is safe. So when a kid goes into school, they’re not worried about some shooter going in there and shooting up the school again,” said Andrew Pollack, father of murdered senior Meadow Pollack.

Related: Florida officer Scot Peterson defends response to Parkland shooting

Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina Petty, was killed, said he came to the school on Wednesday to support his son and the other kids who were returning to class.

“We miss her right now,” Petty said. “We miss waking her up, getting her ready for school — trying to get her up out of bed and make sure she gets to school on time.”

Parents like Petty and Guttenberg assured their living children, who returned to Stoneman Douglas on Wednesday, that on this day they would be safe.

“It’s going to be the safest building in America today. And probably the safest school in America for the rest of the year,” Guttenberg said.

Kerry Sanders and Tammy Leitner reported from Parkland, Florida, Kalhan Rosenblatt reported from New York.

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