Oxford High students return to school for the first time since Nov. 30 shooting
Oxford — School officials said 91% of Oxford High School students attended classes on Monday, marking the first return to a newly renovated building since a school shooting on Nov. 30 left four students dead and injured six others and a teacher.
Students began their day under a "late start" at 10:20 a.m. with four class periods, Oxford Schools spokesperson Dani Stublensky said Monday afternoon.
"Our return was a success today," Stublensky said.
Superintendent Tim Throne sent an email to families after school thanking students, families and staff for a successful return to the renovated and "reclaimed" high school.
"The energy in our building was positive and encouraging. We had a strong return with 91% of our high school students in attendance. Words can not express how good it is to be together with our Wildcats again," Throne wrote.
The superintendent said the district made an adjustment on Monday to remove one-way hallway traffic throughout the day after getting feedback from returning students.
Dozens of therapy dogs, including a fleet of puppies-in-training from Leader Dogs, were at the high school on Monday, Throne said. Every high school student received a gift bag at the end of the day, courtesy of the Oxford Strong organization.
"As the physical and emotional safety of our students continues to be our number one priority, we appreciate the presence of local law enforcement, clinicians and therapists from Oakland Schools and Easterseals who joined our counseling department to provide support," Throne wrote. "We also appreciate the additional staff from across the district and dozens of our athletic coaches who added to the familiar faces throughout our high school building today to provide support."
Snow fell on students from a dark, gray sky as they trickled into the school, preparing to walk its halls and sit in its classrooms nearly two months after the shooting. Across Oxford and nearby Orion Township, signs that read "Oxford Strong" and "Pray for Oxford" still adorned yards, driveways and storefronts.
For weeks prior, students attended classes online or at Oxford Middle School as officials repaired damaged hallways, classrooms and doors and devised a plan for the reopening.
Carrying clear backpacks, they entered a school with increased security, new paint in "calming colors" and hand-written messages of support on hearts and snowflakes.
Those, along with a team of therapy dogs slated to walk the hallways with handlers, including where the shooting took place, and trauma-trained staff charged with looking for signs that students need help as they ease back into classrooms, were among the changes the school announced last week.
"Safe rooms" were also 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.
Returning students have choices in how they attend the high school, the school district announced last week. They may attend in person, work online or enroll in the Oxford Virtual Academy, which has its own teachers and is also online, school officials said.
"We know it’s gonna be really difficult for our students and our staff to come back because we’re still grieving," said Steven Wolf, the school's principal, in a welcome back message posted on Youtube Sunday. "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.