After shooting, return to school brings teachers to tears
MIAMI (AP) — In the right-hand drawer of a desk at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is a file that teacher Ernest Rospierski desperately wants back.
It’s full of thank-you letters from his students and their parents over the years.
“It’s my bad-day file, my it’s-been-a-long-day file,” Rospierski said. “If I have a bad day, I open it up.”
The last time he was in his classroom at the Parkland school was a horrific day: Valentine’s Day, when a former student shot and killed 17 people on campus.
The building where 14 students, a teacher, a football coach and the school’s athletic director were slain will be torn down. Before that happens, 30 classrooms must be cleared of teaching materials, personal items and memories.
“Teachers spend half their lives in their rooms,” Rospierski said.
His desk was full of lesson plans, family photographs and souvenirs his students have brought him from their travels. His students would expect to see these things when they return to class to next week, even though he’ll have to relocate his courses in world geography and AP European history.
Preparing to return to campus Friday, he said he needed to read his bad-day file.
“I want that back,” he said.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said some teachers and staff met for breakfast before returning Friday to the high school, where therapy dogs and other counseling services were available.
Spanish teacher Alicia Blonde could only bear a brief visit to campus. Her classroom wasn’t affected by the shooting, but she’s been focused on speaking out for gun control and she’s haunted by the memories of 17 people who won’t return to school.
She called the therapy dogs “angels.”
“I bent down to hug one, and I was crying, and the dog comforted me,” Blonde said, breaking down in tears in a phone interview. “I had the thought, I am going to have to do for my students what this dog is doing for me.”
Blonde said the building where the shootings took place was surrounded by a fence covered in supportive banners sent from other schools. Officers on campus held assault rifles, which she found unnerving.
“I know that’s going to be a frightening thing for a lot of students,” she said.
The Miami Herald reported that Assistant Principal Denise Reed stood at the school’s entrance Friday. “It’s great to see your smiling faces,” she said, leaning into the driver’s window of an arriving employee.
Teachers maneuvered their vehicles through a heavy police presence, orange cones blocking off parts of the road and a swarm of TV trucks and cameras. The school’s flags flew at half-staff, and the parking lot was still full of bicycles left behind in a panic as students fled the shooting on foot.
“Good morning! Love you guys,” Reed told a car full of teachers.
No one has been allowed inside the building where the shooting took place because it remained a crime scene, Runcie said.
“We would work with the victims and their families to figure out what would be an appropriate memorial,” Runcie said.
The school plans an orientation Sunday for teachers and students, and classes were scheduled to resume Wednesday.
“I sat in the Publix parking lot and cried for 10 minutes before I even drove closer,” English teacher Nicole Blands said of her first return inside the school Friday.
She’s feeling confused, devastated and a range of emotions.
“It was heartbreaking.”
In some ways she feels it’s too soon to return to the sight of so much bloodshed and grief, but she said the teachers know they need to be strong and “ready to be there for the kids.”
“I don’t know if many people are ready for it,” she said.
History teacher Ivy Schamis said she planned to put off returning until Monday, after processing all the funerals she attended over the last week and exploring the possibility of bringing a therapy dog.
“Give me another room and I’ll teach,” she said.
She had been teaching a class about the Holocaust when the shooter fired into her classroom. A big yellow banner stating “Never Again” had been hanging in her classroom even as students hid from gunfire beneath their desks.
Schamis wants the same banner hanging in her next classroom.
“That’s a Holocaust banner and now that’s what our slogan is becoming after this tragedy,” she said.
Associated Press reporter Kelli Kennedy in Parkland, Florida, contributed to this story.
Follow the AP’s complete coverage of the Florida school shooting here: https://apnews.com/tag/Floridaschoolshooting