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Ed. Dept. Gives Newtown $3.1 Million to Aid in Aftermath of School Shooting

Written by guest blogger Evie Blad. This post first appeared on Rules for Engagement.

The U.S. Department of Education will provide an additional $3.1 million grant to the Newtown School District to aid in recovery from the 2012 shooting of 20 students and six adults at an elementary school there, the agency announced today.

"I believe that the district ran, for lack of a better word for it, on adrenaline last year," Superintendent Joseph Erardi said in a conference call with reporters. "I am forecasting a more complex--not more difficult but a more complex--year this year than we had last year."

The district assesses its needs for counseling, safety services, and support on an ongoing basis with assistance from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at UCLA, he said, adding that he projects a 12-15 year timeline for recovery. "We are really in rebuilding mode," Erardi said. "We will be in rebuilding mode for quite some time."

The department previously provided a $1.3 million grant for the 2012-13 school year and a $1.9 million grant for the 2013-14 school year to aid with mental health services for students and broader recovery efforts. The funds announced today come from Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) and are in the form of an extended services grant that will build on those earlier efforts.

"Based on a comprehensive needs assessment that the district conducted, the sense that school is an unsafe place still pervades the community, and severe post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and grief continue to affect students' performance in and outside of the classroom," according to the Education Department.

While previous awards addressed "the entire school community," the latest grant will be more narrowly targeted to those "who were directly impacted by the incident," the Education Department said.

The combined funding makes Newtown the recipient of some of the largest Project SERV grants ever awarded. Project SERV "awards immediate-services and extended-services grants to school districts, colleges, and universities that have experienced a significant traumatic event and need resources to respond, recover, and re-establish safe environments for students." Combined with funding from the Department of Justice for safety efforts, Newtown has received a combined total of a little more than $15 million in federal funds since the shootings, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty, D-Conn., said in the conference call.

"Those needs remain, and this long-term support over this school year and the next school year is very necessary," Esty said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., recalled being at the firehouse in Newtown on the day of the shootings, waiting with families to learn if their children had survived.

"Newtown has become a symbol of tragedy, but it will not be defined by that tragedy," he said.

Erardi said about half of the children who were enrolled in the K-4 Sandy Hook Elementary School on the day of the shooting, known in the district simply as "12/14," are still students there. The other half have moved on to middle school, where support services have followed them. The next phase of funds will provide for psychosocial interventions, a new social-emotional learning program, training for parents and teachers about dealing with child trauma, additional unarmed guards, three additional school counselors, five school psychologists, and three social workers, he said.

Following the shootings, President Obama announced a multi-agency "Now is the Time" initiative, which included violence-prevention efforts and a series of gun law proposals. Recommendations included "four educational buckets" of school climate, emergency planning, mental health services, and school safety, said David Esquith, director of the Education Department's Office of Safe and Healthy Students. 

The agency plans to work with the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to roll out programs in October that address these four areas, he said. Those programs will include school climate grants, grants for states to provide technical assistance in school emergency planning, and Project Prevent--a program designed to prevent violence and address emotional needs of students in areas where it is pervasive.

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