New school year, new security at site of Florida massacre

An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – Students at the Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 teens and educators last February will start a new school year on Wednesday amid new security measures that some parents and students fear may not be enough to stop future tragedies.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has doubled its campus security detail to 18, including three uniformed sheriff’s deputies, and the school’s 3,200 students must wear identification badges as they funnel through three entrances when they arrive at the sprawling campus.

Once the first class starts daily, only one heavily monitored entrance will allow visitors on campus.

School administrators considered and then opted against requiring students to use see-through backpacks or installing metal detectors, finding it would be too difficult to screen all students each morning before class.

On Feb. 14, in the third deadliest shooting by a single gunman at an American school, Nikolas Cruz, 19, who had once been expelled from the school, allegedly opened fire with an assault-style weapon. Cruz is awaiting trial on 17 counts of first-degree murder.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed in the massacre, is worried how his son Jesse, who will start his senior year on Wednesday, will cope with spending another year on the campus where his sister died.

“Very anxious is the word right now,” Guttenberg said in an interview on Monday. He was critical of the measures the school has put in place over the summer break.

“They haven’t done that much,” he said. “They’ve got cameras, which is good, but the entry points are essentially the same.”

School district officials did not immediately offer comment on Guttenberg’s remarks.

The outburst of violence in a decades-long series of shootings at U.S. schools and colleges reignited the nation’s long-running debate on gun rights and sparked a national youth-led gun control movement, with many of the leaders coming from Stoneman Douglas. The U.S. House of Representatives did not tighten gun laws after the massacre but approved more spending for school security.

Broward County schools Superintendent Robert Runcie defended the new security measures, including the lack of metal detectors, from criticism by parents and some school board members, but acknowledged that anxieties remain high.

“This first day of school will be profoundly different and extremely challenging,” Runcie told reporters last week. “It will be emotional. It will be difficult.”

The county school board in April rejected funding from a new state program intended to arm teachers.

Changes greeting students on Wednesday include the doubling of school security personnel, raising the number of armed law enforcement officers to three from one, and classroom doors that lock automatically.

There are also new gates and fences, and the building where most of the 17 were killed is fenced-off, replaced by 32 temporary structures housing classrooms, restrooms, and administrative offices.

“I definitely don’t feel secure,” said junior Darian Williams, 16. “The security officers can do all they want but if someone wants to get in, they can get in.”

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Scott Malone)

Students launch walkout against gun violence in United States

A small group of anti-gun protesters hold a vigil outside the Vermont State

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Students walked out of classrooms across the United States on Wednesday, waving signs and chanting their demands for tighter gun safety laws, joining a movement spearheaded by survivors of the deadly shooting spree at a Florida high school last month.

The #ENOUGH National School Walkout began at 10 a.m. EDT with 17-minute walkouts planned at 10 a.m. local time in western time zones, commemorating the 17 students and staff killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

Students arrive for class at Columbine High School before participating in a National School Walkout to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Some students got in an early start. At Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York City, crowds of students poured into the streets of Manhattan, many dressed in orange, the color of the gun-control movement.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” read one sign, needling the rote response many lawmakers make after mass shootings.

In Parkland, students slowly filed onto the Stoneman Douglas school football field as law enforcement officers looked on.

The walkouts are part of a burgeoning, grass-roots movement that grew out of the Parkland attack. Some of the survivors have lobbied state and federal lawmakers, and even met with President Donald Trump, to call for new restrictions on gun ownership, a right protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“If our elected officials don’t take responsibility for their inaction on both sides of the aisle, then we are going to kick them out of office,” David Hogg, a Stoneman Douglas student, said in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday.

The students’ efforts helped bring about a tightening of Florida’s gun laws last week, when the minimum age for buying any kind of gun was raised to 21 years from 18, although lawmakers there rejected a ban on the sort of semiautomatic rifle used in the Parkland attack.

In Washington, however, plans to strengthen the background-check system for gun sales, among other measures, appear to be languishing.

A large crowd of students gathered and chanted slogans outside the gates of the White House. Trump, however, was out of town on a trip to California.

Students from more than 2,800 schools and groups are joining the walkouts, many with the backing of their school districts, according to the event’s organizers, who also coordinated the Women’s March protests staged nationwide over the past two years.

Support has also come from the American Civil Liberties Union and Viacom Inc <VIAB.O>, which said all seven of its networks, including MTV, would suspend programming at 10 a.m. in each U.S. time zone during the 17-minute walkout.

The protests took place a day after Florida prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Parkland attack.

The New York City Department of Education allowed students to participate if they submitted a signed permission slip from their parents.

But a few school districts around the country had warned against protests during school hours.

Administrators in Sayreville, New Jersey, told students that anyone who walked out of class would face suspension or other punishment, according to

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Alice Popovici in New York, Joe Skipper in Parkland, Florida, and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)