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State Providing Mental Health, Security Support to Newtown

In the wake of the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the state of Connecticut says it has stepped in to provide mental health and security resources to the district and to provide resources to other schools in the state.

Stefan Pryor, who has been commissioner of Connecticut's department of education since 2011, said he has been in Newtown since Friday. Though all schools in the Newtown school district were closed today, the district had an all-staff meeting today. Pryor, the district's superintendent, and the head of the teacher unions spoke, and counselors from the state were on hand to support teachers.

On Tuesday, school will be back in session with a two-hour delay for every school in the district except for Sandy Hook. Pryor said that there would be enhanced security at each school from state troopers.

Pryor said that the education department had been working with the department of mental health and addiction services, the department of public health, and the department of children and families to provide services to Newtown. A team of 70 mental health counselors has been sent to the district to help support staff and to help them provide care to students who may be reacting to the tragedy.

The state department also worked with the state's department of construction services to help facilitate an agreement that would put Sandy Hook's students in an empty middle school in the nearby Monroe school district (though, he said, the agreement itself was between the two districts).

The state has pulled in David Schonfeld of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.

Other districts in the state are receiving support, too: Teachers have been given prompts with which they can begin conversations about the event (if they decide to have those conversations—the state does not recommend one way or the other). The state department also sent a letter with recommendations for social-emotional support, school safety, contacts for helplines, and more.

Pryor said that educators in Connecticut had reached out to the Jefferson County school district in Colorado, the site of the Columbine school shooting in 1999, for support and guidance, though he did not give any specifics. Pryor is familiar with recovery from unexpected tragedies: He was the leader of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2011.

"There is no comparing two events," Pryor said. "But I'm favorably astounded by the strength of the human spirit [in Newtown]. It's remarkable what these teachers and school leaders and school professionals are capable of doing. They're mustering energy and capacity that might seem impossible."

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