Newtown Students Return To School

2:07 PM, Aug 27, 2013   |    comments
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NEWTOWN, Conn. - With emotions mixed, families sent their children to seven public schools for the start of the new school year Tuesday - nearly nine months after 26 people were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Heavy nighttime rains ceased before the school day began, and bus after bus filled with students arrived at the schools, which have a total enrollment of about 5,000.

Police and security personnel were stationed at four elementary schools and the intermediate, middle and high schools.

Otherwise, it seemed like a routine school day with no fanfare or visible media presence outside, according to a USA TODAY reporter who observed student arrivals at six schools.

Sandy Hook Elementary School remains closed, as it has been since Dec. 14, when gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their Newtown home before killing 20 children and six adults at the school. He then killed himself.

The school will be razed, and a new one - scheduled to be completed in 2016 - will be built on the same site. Until construction is completed, Sandy Hook Elementary students are being taught at a temporary school in nearby Monroe.

There were no signs, balloons or welcoming banners on the streets outside the temporary Chalk Hill School - as there were when displaced Sandy Hook Elementary students adopted the facility in January.

Sandy Hook resident John Lebinski says his daughter, Sofia, is very excited about attending fourth grade at the school.

"The school is great, and everyone is very welcoming," Lebinski says. "The kids love seeing their friends and teachers."

Lebinski says he has no concerns about security this year, because security was "top notch" at the temporary school last year, and the police officers there were very friendly.

"Sofia loved seeing them every day," he says.

While waiting for his bus to arrive in downtown Sandy Hook, Mateo Zarella, 11, says he is excited about going back to Reed Intermediate School, a school for fifth and sixth graders.

Zarella says he loves gym and wants to see his friends.

His mother, Monica Zarella, who moved to Sandy Hook from Argentina five months before the shootings, says it's a happy day for her son but a sad day for parents who lost a child. She says she is confident her child will be safe at school.

Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra says it is "difficult" to describe the emotions of the western Connecticut community as it begins another school year.

Many residents are excited and positive and see the new school year "as another milestone in our progress," Llodra says.

Others are "more cautious - hopeful but a bit more wary of the unknown in what this new normal means and how it will affect students and families."

For others, the new school year "is a stark reminder of loss and pain," Llodra says. "For them, it is another difficult transition."

Sandy Hook resident Monte Frank says his daughter, Sarah, is looking forward to beginning seventh grade at Newtown Middle School.

She attended Sandy Hook Elementary three years ago and was taught by Victoria Soto, a teacher killed in the shootings.

Frank, one of the town's attorneys, says that earlier this month many Newtown parents and children were ready for school, and "things were starting to feel somewhat normal again."

That changed, he says, on Aug. 20, when a gunman fired shots but injured no one before being arrested at an elementary school in Decatur, Ga.

"The events in Georgia last week brought back the horrible memories of Dec. 14 and fear about going back to school," Frank says.

Rob Cox, whose son, Ethan, is an eighth-grader at Newtown Middle School, says "there is a heightened level of trepidation" this school year.

Cox is a founder of Sandy Hook Promise, a group created to support those affected by the tragedy and find solutions to prevent future tragedies.

He says it's not surprising there is heightened trepidation "given all the emotions and anxieties the kids had as a result of Dec. 14, and the Georgia school incident made it worse.

"The notion that this could happen again is hard to shake - for kids and parents."

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