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.
There are other changes, too.
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.
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
Seventeen became victims, whose memories serve as the bedrock of so many movements of love and change.
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.
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.
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.
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.
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher reported from Parkland and AJ Willingham reported and wrote from Atlanta.