Sandy Hook parents, students face fears as class resumes

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — Since escaping a gunman’s rampage at their elementary school, the 8-year-old Connors triplets have suffered nightmares, jumped at noises and clung to their parents a little more than usual.

Now parents such as David Connors are bracing to send their children back to school, nearly three weeks after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. It won’t be easy — for the parents or the children, who heard the gunshots that killed 20 of their classmates and six educators.

“I’m nervous about it,” Mr. Connors said. “It’s unchartered waters for us. I know it’s going to be difficult.”

Classes are starting Thursday at a re-purposed school in the neighboring town of Monroe, where the students’ desks have been taken along with backpacks and other belongings that were left behind in the chaos following the shooting Dec. 14. Families have been coming in to see the new school, and an open house is scheduled for Wednesday.

An army of workers has been getting the school ready, painting, moving furniture and even raising the floors in the bathrooms of the former middle school so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets.

Teachers will try to make it as normal a school day as possible for the children, schools Superintendent Janet Robinson said.

“We want to get back to teaching and learning,” she said. “We will obviously take time out from the academics for any conversations that need to take place, and there will be a lot of support there. All in all, we want the kids to reconnect with their friends and classroom teachers, and I think that’s going to be the healthiest thing.”

Teachers are returning as well, and some have already been working on their classrooms. At some point, they will be honored, but officials are still working out how and when to do so, Ms. Robinson said.

“Everyone was part and parcel of getting as many kids out of there safely as they could,” she said. “Almost everybody did something to save kids.”

Julian Ford, a clinical psychologist at the University of Connecticut who helped counsel families in the days immediately following the shooting, recommended addressing it as questions come up but otherwise focusing on regular school work.

“Kids just spontaneously make associations and will start talking about something that reminds them of someone, or that reminds them of some of the scary parts of the experience,” Mr. Ford said. “They don’t need a lot of words; they need a few selective words that are thoughtful and sensitive, like, ‘We’re going to be OK,’ and ‘We really miss this person, but we’ll always be able to think about her or him in ways that are really nice.’”

Parents might have a harder time with fear than children, Mr. Ford said.

Before the shooting, a baby sitter would take the Connors’ children to the bus stop. But Mr. Connors said he’ll probably take the third-graders to the bus the first few days.

“I think that they need to get back into a normal routine as quickly as possible,” the father said. “If you’re hovering over them at all times, it almost intensifies the fear for them.”

His children, who escaped unharmed, ask questions about the gunman.

“It’s hard for us to say why,” Mr. Connors said. “That’s kind of what we tell them. This person wasn’t well, was sick and didn’t get the help he needed.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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