Students and teachers brace for emotional return to Florida school

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend a memorial following the shooting.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend a memorial following the shooting.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Students and teachers preparing on Sunday (Feb 25) to return to the Florida school that was the scene of a gruesome mass shooting called the prospect “daunting” and “scary” as they urged politicians to act swiftly to address gun violence.

“Imagine being in a plane crash – and having to get on the plane every day and go somewhere else,” David Hogg, a survivor of the February 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, told ABC’s This Week.

 “I can’t imagine, emotionally, what me and my fellow students (will) go through that day.”

Some students and teachers will be back at the school on Sunday for what is being called “orientation.”

Teachers and staff are to return full-time Monday and Tuesday to prepare their classrooms for students’ return on Wednesday.

Seventeen people died in the attack. Authorities have charged a 19-year-old former student, Nikolas Cruz, in the assault.

One teacher who has already been back told NPR radio that the shock of returning to a classroom left exactly as it had been during the attack – notebooks still on desks, the calendar still set to Feb 14 – made her so physically ill she had to leave.

Amid ardent demands by students like Hogg for action, President Donald Trump has said he is open to raising the minimum wage for gun purchases and to banning so-called bump stocks, which can effectively convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic firearms.

'RED FLAG' LAW

A new CNN poll, conducted a week after the Florida shooting, shows surging public support for stricter gun laws – surpassing levels seen even after other horrific shootings of recent years – and for a ban on powerful semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 used in Parkland.

Overall, 70 per cent of those surveyed said they supported stricter gun laws, up from 52 per cent in October, and 57 percent favored a ban on semi-automatic arms, up from 49 percent.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, himself a member of the influential National Rifle Association (NRA), has laid out a plan to station a police officer at every public school in the state, to raise the legal age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, and to pass a “red flag” law making it easier for authorities to remove guns from the mentally ill or people with violent histories.

The age change and “red flag” law are staunchly opposed by the NRA.

Scott, who holds the NRA’s highest rating of A+, noted on “Fox News Sunday” that “there will be some that disagree. But... I want my state to be safe.” Dana Loesch, an NRA spokeswoman, told ABC that her organisation staunchly opposes most of the proposed gun bans.

Instead, she placed blame on politicians, for their inaction, and on law enforcement – specifically the Broward County ( Florida) sheriff’s office, which she said had had ample warning of Cruz’s violent tendencies.

She accused the sheriff’s office of “abdication of duty” for not arresting Cruz sooner.

'A TERRIBLE IDEA'

But in an often contentious interview on CNN, Sheriff Scott Israel strongly defended his department’s work. Of the 23 calls to his department about Cruz’s erratic or threatening behaviour, nearly all were minor and had been handled appropriately, and a few others were being investigated, he said.

Asked about a deputy who stood outside the building for long minutes even as the slaughter continued, Israel called the man’s inaction “disgusting” but said he appeared to be alone in failing to respond adequately. The deputy has since resigned.

“We will investigate every action of our deputies, of their supervisors ... and if they did things wrong, I will take care of business,” he said.

Trump has also proposed arming some teachers, a step many teachers passionately oppose.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told C-Span in an interview aired Sunday that “it’s a terrible idea, period, full stop.”

Children, parents and teachers, she said, “want schools to be safe sanctuaries for teaching and learning, not armed fortresses.”

And the idea of “a good guy with a gun” being able to stop a shooter, Weingarten said, was debunked by the inaction of the deputy outside the Parkland school.

Meanwhile, Delaney Tarr, another survivor of the Florida shooting, said Sunday on Fox that she was girding herself as best she could to return to school.

“It’s daunting... (and) scary because I don’t know if I’m going to be safe there,” she said.

“But I know that I have to.”