PARKLAND, Fla. — Surrounded by a heavy police presence, students began returning to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High today for the first time since a gunman killed 17 students and staff on Valentine's Day.

"I'm a little nervous, but we have to get back so we can get some sense of normalcy," said Bradley Golab, 14, who was in the building where the shooting took place. "We're just going to try to support each other."

Matthieu Evillard, 16, said he was ready to come back after spending the past two weeks going to public events.

"It's been really stressful," he said.

Lakeisha Walker said she thought about transferring her daughter, Zareyah Simpson, 16, to another school, "but she wouldn't let me."

Simpson, a 10th-grader, was happy to return to campus.

"I feel good to be back because this is my school, and I missed it," she said. "It's a little nerve-wracking after what happened, but I feel like the school is much safer."

Dozens of police agencies from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade — and even a contingent from New York — surrounded the school this morning to ensure they felt safe and protected.

Rod Skirvin, vice president of the Police Benevolent Association in Broward, gave out 1,000 carnations donated by Field of Flowers as the students crossed Pine Island Road to enter the school.

He said the daughter of one of his members goes to the Parkland school.

"It's something gentle, something refreshing. You can't frown at a flower. Anything to start the day with a smile, " he said.

Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie offered a message of hope to students in a tweet this morning.

"I pray that today is the beginning of our long and difficult journey from grief, sorrow and anger to a new consciousness of hope, compassion and love," he said. "Thank you to our young people for leading the way. Welcome Back! #MSDStrong #NeverAgain"

Around the schools, signs let students know "You've got this" and "We are with you.'"

Suzanna Barna, a 17-year-old senior, was not so sure about coming back.

"I'm a little bit nervous to see how different everything feels," she said. "It's going to take some time for me."

Claudia Ortiz said her daughter, Daniella, 17, didn't want to come to orientation Sunday but is in school today.

The mother said she has been watching the news a lot but stopped because "it was consuming me. Going back will give the kids a chance to be normal again."

Damar Sierra, 16, said she has been calm during the last two weeks "but I may get emotional today when I see all my teachers and friends again."

Principal Ty Thompson tweeted Tuesday night that the focus today would be "on emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum, so there is no need for backpacks. Come ready to start the healing process."

Students will be on a shortened four-hour day all week to help them transition back, district officials said.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel announced last week that deputies guarding schools in Broward will carry rifles, including AR-15s, the type of gun Nikolas Cruz used in the massacre.

Cruz, a former student at Marjory Douglas, is charged with 17 counts of murder and could face the death penalty.

The school district is reviewing long-term security plans for all schools, and Superintendent Robert Runcie said the district plans to ask the Legislature for money to hire more school-based police officers.

Runcie said he is trying to expedite the placement of fences, gates and barriers around school perimeters so people can enter a school campus only at the front office. The district might consider other measures, including bullet-proof windows on classroom doors.