The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Edmund Burke School reopens for first time since shooting

The school held a ceremony ahead of the day to prepare students for the emotional return

Damian Jones, head of school, welcomes students and staffers back to the Edmund Burke School in Northwest Washington on May 4. (Robb Hill for The Washington Post)
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Students and parents at the Edmund Burke School in Northwest Washington entered the school together for the first time since a gunman shot more than 200 bullets toward the campus on April 22. They waved streamers, read poems and sang before they all walked a few blocks to the school for a half-day of classes in a building that had become the nation’s latest school targeted by a gunman.

No one was killed in the shooting, but one student and three adults, including the school’s security guard, were injured. The glass walkway that connected the urban campus’s two buildings was shattered during the shooting. Now, it is covered by metal.

The shooting occurred around dismissal time as students streamed out of the buildings and adults waited outside to pick them up.

“Team Burke,” read staff members’ red shirts as employees greeted families Wednesday.

The Burke administration hosted an often tearful outdoor assembly at a nearby field ahead of the academic day. Parents, staffers and community leaders read prayers from different faiths, recited poems and sang “Lean on Me.”

Damian Jones, head of school, told the crowd that members of the community were supporting one another as they processed the tragedy and try to return to a sense of normalcy. He said Wednesday marked a day where the Burke community would reclaim its school, community and home.

Before the shooting, Edmund Burke School felt nurturing and safe

About a dozen D.C. police officers, including Chief Robert J. Contee III, showed up to the return-to-school ceremonies to support students. He said emotional support animals were also on-site to ease the return.

Contee has said that the shooter, Raymond Spencer, 23, had his sights on Burke, but police have not established a motive or a connection between the school and Spencer, who was found dead in his apartment across from the school hours after the shooting.

On Wednesday, Contee told reporters that he had no updates on the investigation and that police had still not determined a motive.

“We feel pretty confident we’ll get to the bottom of it,” he said.

During the truncated school day, counselors were on-site and students met in groups with their homerooms. Parents had their own discussion they could attend.

Laura Manatos and Mike Manatos attended the gathering with their daughter, 16-year-old Sienna. The couple said the event was therapeutic and necessary to make everyone feel safe.

“I think it was helpful for everyone, maybe even more so for the parents,” Mike Manatos said. “So we could watch our kids enter the school.”

Burke, founded in 1968, bills itself as a “progressive, college prep school” that features an “inclusive environment” for students in grades 6 through 12. At each grade level, Burke students undergo a year-long “integrated civics, equity, and leadership curriculum, grounded in social justice pedagogy.”

The school was founded at the height of the civil rights era, and its founders wanted an education that would imbue students with a sense of civic responsibility. They named the school after Edmund Burke, a British philosopher and politician who supported the American Revolution and opposed slavery.

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