Sandy Hook School students–many accompanied by their parents–resumed classes at a retrofitted school here on a bitterly cold Thursday morning, less than a month after a gunman opened fire at their elementary school in Newtown, killing 20 children and 6 adults, including principal Dawn Hochsprung, in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
Buses began arriving around 8:30 a.m. at Chalk Hill School, seven miles away from their former home in Sandy Hook. The snowy roads leading to the former middle school were lined with balloons, green and white ribbons–the school’s colors–and signs welcoming the kids back. “Work Hard,” one sign affixed to a tree read. “Get Smart. Have Fun,” read another.
About a dozen police cruisers were parked the entrance to the school and officers braved the 13-degree temperatures to direct school traffic, but Monroe Police Lt. Keith White told reporters on Wednesday that uniformed police presence inside would be toned down to allow a sense of normalcy.
Volunteers spent several weeks moving furniture from Sandy Hook School to the new facility, as school officials tried to completely re-create classrooms in an effort to make students as comfortable as possible–right down, they said, to the way crayons were left on their desks.
And Newtown Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson announced on Wednesday that Chalk Hill would be renamed Sandy Hook Elementary.
“The students coming in completes the circle,” Robinson said. “That’s what’s missing right now–getting our students back.”
“Schools are where children typically spend the largest part of their day,” Robinson wrote in a separate letter to parents. “Re-establishing routines following any disaster has been found to promote resiliency while also reducing the negative effects of a tragedy like that which occurred in our school. We all find safety and predictability in our routines and children are no different.”
Parents were encouraged to attend school with their children on Thursday, though not ride with them on buses.
“I want to reassure you that we understand many parents may need to be near their children on their first day(s) of school and you will be welcome,” interim principal Donna Page wrote in a letter to parents. “That being said, we encourage students to take the bus to school in order to help them return to familiar routines as soon as possible. Parents choosing to join their children may come to school after our 9:07 a.m. opening and will be welcome in the classroom or the auditorium throughout the day.”
A note on the school’s website warned that parking for parents “may pose some challenges” and that shuttle buses would be provided from an overflow lot at a nearby church.
To “ensure a safe and secure environment,” Page continued, “we ask that no more than one adult family member accompany his/her child.”
New security systems were installed at the former middle school in the wake of the shooting. Earlier this week, Newtown Councilman Steve Vavrek said Chalk Hill would be “the safest school in America.”
Other public schools in Newtown reopened within a week of the shootings, but Sandy Hook Elementary has remained closed since Dec. 14, when 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza shot his way into the school and opened fire before turning a gun on himself. Lanza also killed his mother in their Newtown home before going on the rampage.
“I want parents and families enduring the loss of their precious children to know their loved ones are foremost in our hearts and minds as we move forward,” Page also wrote. “We recognize your needs are paramount in our preparations and planning. Your strength and compassion has been and will continue to be an inspiration to me and countless others as we work to honor the memory of your precious children and our beloved staff.”