Preparing for the Return to School in Newtown
Today is the first regular day of school at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. since last month's shootings. Yesterday, teachers met with Superintendent Janet Robinson, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, and others before an open house at the new school building for parents and students. Class began at 9:07 today.
As an investigation into the shootings that took the lives of 20 students and 6 adults continues, Sandy Hook Elementary School has moved seven miles down the road to the Chalk Hill Middle School building in nearby Monroe, Conn. The building in Monroe has a new sign out front: "Sandy Hook Elementary School."
The media and outsiders were kept far away while the parents and students acclimated to the new school early yesterday afternoon and returned this morning; the superintendent and local and state police held a press conference nearby yesterday. Some parents and children had already visited the school over the break.
Representatives from state and local police departments said that security at the school was tight, but declined to specify particular devices or plans.
"I think right now it has to be the safest school in America," Monroe police lieutenant Keith White told the press. He said that state and local law enforcement agencies were doing whatever they could to provide a safe school environment, regardless of cost.
Sandy Hook returns to school with a new principal (or their "new-old principal," as one parent described her in a conversation with ABC News). Donna Page has returned to the school after retiring in 2010. In a news conference, Robinson said that "Donna Page's willingness to come back to help during this transition has been a godsend." Dawn Hochsprung, who had been the school's principal, was among the victims of last month's shooting.
Page wrote a letter to the Sandy Hook community about the walk-through earlier this week. She welcomed families to join their children tomorrow, but encouraged the community to get back to a standard routine as soon as possible.
Superintendent Robinson said in an interview that the school's 1st graders would be grouped in one class, to be led by the school's surviving 1st grade teacher. An interim school psychologist is filling in the role of Mary Sherlach, who was also killed in the shooting. Grief counselors deployed by the state continue to be present in the school and district, and counseling services are being offered to the entire community in another Newtown school.
Teachers from the Monroe school district, the Newtown school district, and others helped move Sandy Hook school materials into the new building, said Eric Bailey, a spokesman for AFT Connecticut. Volunteers and workers from around the state worked to get the mothballed school ready for the elementary schoolers: Some of the bathroom floors in the middle school building had to be raised to accommodate the younger pupils, for instance.
At the press conference, Lt. White told the press that some of the students were excited about the middle school amenities in their new school, especially a new gymnasium.
Classes resumed for the rest of the school district before the holidays. There has been an outpouring of support to the district. Bailey said that students from around the state and around the country had sent handprints to show support to the Sandy Hook community. Newtown High School's principal has been sending out tweets to thank supporters.
Donorschoose.org has also set up a page for donations to Newtown teachers. "The teachers of Newtown know the needs of their students best," said Connecticut education Commissioner Stefan Pryor in a press release. "We hope that efforts such as this will help aid Newtown educators—modestly but meaningfully—as they return to and restart their classrooms."
AFT Connecticut is training teachers statewide to become peer counselors for teachers traumatized by the massacre, said Bailey. (AFT's national president Randi Weingarten was also present in Newtown today.) We wrote about some of the other long-term supports needed in schools that have experienced traumas.
But for now, the focus in Newtown is on a successful return to school at the new Sandy Hook. When asked at yesterday's press conference if he had any words for the Sandy Hook students, Lt. White said, "We want the kids to feel welcome here. Teachers are eagerly awaiting them."
You can find more coverage of the Newtown school shootings and some of the conversations they have spurred about security, gun control, and other education issues on this blog and in this collection of full Education Week coverage.
Photo: A bus traveling from Newtown, Conn., to Monroe stops in front of 26 angels along the roadside on the first day of classes for Sandy Hook Elementary School students. Chalk Hill School in Monroe was overhauled especially for the students from the Sandy Hook School shooting. Twenty students and 6 adult staff members were killed in the Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook school. (Jessica Hill/AP)
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