By Bernie Woodall
PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – The Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 people in February opened on Wednesday for a new school year with three armed guards and other new security measures that some parents and students worried would not be enough.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, doubled its campus security detail to 18, including three armed uniformed sheriff’s deputies. The school’s 3,300 students wore new identification badges as they funnelled through three entrances at the sprawling 45-acre campus.
During the school year, only one heavily monitored entrance will allow visitors on campus.
“I know the extra security is necessary, but it makes you know that your school isn’t normal,” Nariah Depina, a 15-year-old sophomore, said as she arrived for the first day of class.
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 a U.S. school, police say Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire on teenagers and teachers with an assault-style weapon. Cruz, who had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas, is awaiting trial on 17 counts of first-degree murder.
The latest outburst of violence in a decades-long series of shootings at U.S. schools and colleges prompted Stoneman Douglas students to help form a nationwide youth-led gun control movement. The U.S. House of Representatives did not tighten gun laws but did approve more spending for school security.
Broward County schools Superintendent Robert Runcie defended the security decisions, including the lack of metal detectors, from criticism by parents and some school board members, but acknowledged that anxieties remained high.
In addition to more security personnel, including the number of armed law enforcement officers increased to three from one, students were greeted with classroom doors that lock automatically.
There are also new gates and fences on the campus. The building where most of the killing occurred is fenced-off, replaced by 32 temporary structures housing classrooms, restrooms and administrative offices.
The county school board in April rejected funding from a new state programme intended to arm teachers.
Runcie told reporters that checking student backpacks and the newly required identification cards did not create significant delays. Most students expressed confidence that the school was as secure as possible.
Sophomore Orion Jean, 15, said he was not concerned about the lack of metal detectors, which he believed would only “keep honest people honest.”
Anyone intent on killing would still “find a way to do it,” he said.
Anthony Erale, 16, a junior who plays on the football team, said he did not think all the security was necessary.
“We already had our tragedy,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)