The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 3, 2013

School starts at new building for Sandy Hook kids


From staff, wire reports

— Students and faculty of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., returned to class Thursday for the first time since the Dec. 14 mass shooting that killed 20 students and six educators.

Students settled in at their old, familiar desks but in a different school in the neighboring town of Monroe. Returning students, teachers and administrators were met by a large police presence outside their new school. Several officers guarded the entrance and checked IDs of parents dropping off children.

Monroe police Lt. Keith White said attendance was very good and the children were getting back to “business as usual.”

“A lot of them were happy to see their friends they hadn’t seen in a while,” he said.

Most of the students arrived at the new school in Monroe by bus, something school officials had suggested to help them get back into a familiar routine.

About 80 parents attended an assembly Thursday with school and police officials, who fielded questions about security and activities planned for their children. White said security will remain at a high level for now and will be re-evaluated each week.

Teams of workers, many of them volunteers, prepared the new school and even raised bathroom floors so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets. The students’ backpacks and other belongings that were left behind after the shooting were taken to the new school to make them feel at home.

Students found the same chairs and desks, when possible. Their classroom walls were painted the same colors and hung with the same pictures. Other details, such as the location of bookshelves and cubbyholes, were replicated as much as possible.

Newtown school Superintendent Janet Robinson said the school has been transformed into a “cheerful” place for the students. She said mental health counselors continue to be available for anyone who needs them.

A thousand miles from Newtown, it was also business as usual here, as Athens and Limestone County students returned to school Thursday.

On Wednesday, officials with Limestone County Schools took down a sign honoring victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. The memorial was installed Dec. 17 in front of the central office building on Jefferson Street.

Spokesperson Karen Tucker said in a statement the sign was taken down because Sandy Hook students were starting a new year at a new school.

“We, as a district and nation, were so impressed with the way they handled themselves in the school and the community. It was our intent for the sign to honor them as fellow educators,” she said. “This tragedy will not be forgotten by the Limestone County Schools. We are learning from this tragedy in our efforts to keep Limestone County students safe by updating our existing safety plan. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go to the town of Newtown … and Sandy Hook Elementary.”