Florida’s legislative session will end. The TV cameras will go away — yes, just as they left Sandy Hook.
But the collateral damage of Nikolas Cruz’s horrific act will remain. Wednesday, South Floridians got a glimpse of the wounds that his victims bear, not to the bodies of the injured, but to the psyches of those survivors who were able to get out of the building; who hid in closets listening to the shots that wouldn’t end; who ran past the bloodied bodies of classmates they were sitting next to moments before.
It took Cruz mere minutes to kill 17 people and wound many others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
But mental scars will endure, along with the physical ones.
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It’s a shame that it took a school massacre and thousands of angry young people to force Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers to suddenly find the funds to enhance mental health treatment in Florida. It’s obvious Cruz need help.
It’s a disgrace that jails and prisons have become Florida’s default mental health facilities. And it’s been no secret that, in some studies, Florida comes in dead last in funding for treatment.
When Stoneman Douglas reopened on Wednesday, 3,123 students returned. An overwhelming majority of young people steeled themselves to reenter what became a chamber of horrors two weeks earlier.
“We were just trying to re-instill the sense of normalcy that we all had before,” said student Kai Koerber, 17. That’s a hopeful sentiment, but one that will be difficult to achieve without the watchful eyes and intervention of parents, counselors and mental-health treatment.
Now that school is back in session, many students likely will work hard to make it seem as if they have bounced back from the terror they experienced on Feb. 14. What about those who just can’t?
There’s another number to which Broward school administrators and others must pay attention. Though they were proudly able to declare at a news conference that 95 percent of the shooting survivors walked back into Stoneman Douglas to reunite with classmates and teachers, about 170 students stayed away.
How troubling is that? Not sure. They might show up today, or they might be unable to complete the school year if they have to set foot in the school. It’s imperative that adults — and even students’ peers in class — ensure that all who need a safe space to mourn, to heal, to carry on, have one.
The district, led by Superintendent Robert Runcie, is doing a Herculean job in trying to piece back together the shattered school lives of the students. It has brought in a legion of grief counselors, along with furry, friendly therapy dogs. Stoneman Douglas’ principal and teachers were at the ready with hugs and comfort. Though 15 have transferred, the kids who came back to the Eagles’ “nest” Wednesday are getting help to repair their tragically interrupted lives.
However, should students continue to stay away, school officials should find them, work with their parents, determine how they are coping and — most important — ensure that counseling help is available. Are they planning to drop out of school? Were they confidently college-bound, but now derailed?
#MSDStrong is a great battle cry. And the students who have emerged as vociferous activists are proof. But don’t be fooled, they are hurting, too. And some parents have already said that there are students who are acting up at home. Of course, they are.
The aim, now, is to ensure that they are not long-term victims of Nikolas Cruz.