December 17, 2012

Across US, students nervously returning to school

Teachers and parents across the country were wrestling with how best to quell children's fears about returning to school for the first time since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Christine Armario / The Associated Press

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Some officials refused to discuss plans publicly in detail, but it was clear that vigilance will be high this week at schools everywhere in the aftermath of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history: Twenty-six people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, most children ages 6 and 7. The gunman then shot and killed himself.

Dennis Carlson, superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, said a mental health consultant would meet with school officials Monday, and there will be three associates — one to work with the elementary, middle and high schools, respectively. As the day goes on, officials will be on the lookout for any issues that arise, and extra help will go where needed.

"We are concerned for everybody — our staff and student body and parents," Carlson said. "It's going to be a day where we are all going to be hypervigilant, I know that."

In Tucson, Ariz., where a gunman in January 2011 killed six and wounded 12 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the largest school district in the state increased security after Friday's shooting. Planning was under way at the Tucson Unified School District to help teachers and students with grief and fear, and the district was working with Tucson police on security, district spokeswoman Cara Rene said.

Many schools planned to hold a moment of silence Monday and fly flags at half-staff.

Meanwhile, at home, many parents were trying their best to allay their children's fears while coping with their own. Kornfeld said her town is a lot like Newtown: a place where people generally feel safe being at home without the doors locked and playing outside after school.

"Why would that happen there?" she said. "It kind of rocks everything."

She sat down with her son and daughter after school Friday and explained to them what had happened. She reminded her children that they were with her, and safe.

"But it could have been us," her son replied.

Hoping to reassure them, she drove the children to their elementary school over the weekend. She wanted them to know it was still a safe place.

"Our school is the same as it was when you left," she told them. "It's going to be fine."

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