'Reclaiming our high school': Oxford principal shares welcome message ahead of reopening

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

As Oxford High School reopens its doors to students Monday, the administration will work to return to "as close to normalcy" as possible, school principal Steven Wolf said in a welcome back message on YouTube. 

"We’ve been grieving together, we’ve been praying together. We’ve attended funerals, vigils and memorials, and we have been absolutely heartbroken," said Wolf in the Sunday video. "... Yet we have been determined to carry on, and I am so proud to say that we are reopening our high school ... and we are reclaiming our high school back." 

Students will walk through the halls and attend classes at the school for the first time since a Nov. 30 mass shooting left Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17, dead. A teacher and six students were also injured.

Oxford High School Principal Steven Wolf

Wolf said the school had spent the nearly two months since the shooting consulting with and receiving help from outside experts in mental health and law enforcement, as well as parents and students, to best plan for the school reopening. 

In addition to repaired classrooms, windows and doors that resulted from the shooting, increased security, new paint in "calming colors" and hand-written messages of support on hearts and snowflakes were among the changes announced last week. 

Oxford elementary and middle school students crafted snowflakes and hearts with notes of love and encouragement that are hung on the lockers for high school students.

A team of therapy dogs will walk the hallways with handlers, including where the shooting took place, and trauma-trained staff will be looking for signs that students need help as they ease back into classrooms. 

"Safe rooms" have also been created where students can find solace and help from crisis counselors, and a new mural has been painted across a giant wall of the sprawling school, which before the shooting had about 1,800 students.

"When our students return to school, we will have numerous mental health resources available to them," said Wolf. "And students, remember: being Oxford strong means asking for help when you need it, because we’re all going to need some help getting through this." 

Renovations at Oxford High School, including, paint, wall graphics, ceiling tiles and carpet.

The announced return to school received mixed reactions from the school community.

Some parents said their children were excited to return to the routine of high school and see their friends after spending seven weeks away, while others said they were not ready to come back after the trauma of the shooting.

Some students have enrolled in the district's virtual academy and will stay home to learn. District officials said 200 families asked for information on the program and that 20 students requested to transfer from Oxford High School to Oxford Virtual Academy.

"We know it’s gonna be really difficult for our students and our staff to come back because we’re still grieving," said Wolf. "And our thoughts and our prayers will continue to be with the victims of this senseless act and this tragedy, and for those who continue to heal."

"Students, you have been filling us up with a tremendous amount of love and a tremendous amount of hope, and we can’t wait to continue pouring that right back into you," he added. 

Wolf also reiterated in the video the school district's decision to not allow members of the media on campus when the school reopens, citing guidance from mental health experts and requests from parents and students.  

halbarghouthi@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @HaniBarghouthi