Newtown schools to break with tradition on Sandy Hook anniversary
Threats in Connecticut and nationwide lead district to approve remote learning on worst day on school calendar
In years when the Sandy Hook shooting anniversary has fallen on a school day, the belief has prevailed that kids were better served being engaged in purposeful school work, and staff were better off teaching with each other than taking a day off.
But the threats in Connecticut and across the country that have multiplied since a fatal shooting left four Michigan teenagers dead has changed the best practice in Newtown about getting through the worst day on the school calendar.
All Superintendent Lorrie Rodrigue can think about is the Dec. 14 anniversary three years ago, when a bomb threat forced her to evacuate Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“It was really horrific that day, I can tell you,” Rodrigue told the school board at a meeting on Tuesday. “It retraumatizes
staff, students and families when we have to evacuate a building due to a threat.”
Determined not to let that happen again this year, Rodrigue asked the school board for permission to conduct remote learning on Dec. 14 — the day in 2012 when 20 firstgraders and six educators were slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Regardless of whether we get a threat or not, it is very difficult on that day, especially with what you are hearing in the news,” Rodrigue said. “I have talked with many parents who I have gotten positive feedback from in the last 24 hours about the possibility of doing something different this year.”
The seven-member Board of Education agreed unanimously.
“The thought always has been that having students engaged and staff together was in the best interest of the brain health of all involved,” said school board member Rebekah HarrimanStites. “I recognize that we are under a tremendous amount of stress as a community right now after Michigan and out of an abundance of caution I agree that it is the best idea to keep our students out of school. “Frankly, as a parent, I don’t know if I could sustain an evacuation of the high school on 12/14 or any school in our district.”
The students won’t be out of school in the sense that they’ll have the day off. Instead they will attend remotely — a practice that became commonplace during the height of the coronavirus crisis.
“It would be completely synchronous — staff would be on screen with students,” Rodrigue said. “The schools would be open, and teachers would have the ability to teach from their classrooms.”
The decision in Newtown to break with tradition and conduct class off campus follows a wave of school-based threats across Connecticut and several incidents of violence, including a stabbing at Hamden High School and reports of gunfire at Danbury High School.
Police have responded with increased presence in schools including at Newtown High School, where Principal Kimberly Longobucco said a discarded piece of paper was found with a “concerning” reference to the Sandy Hook shooting. In a message to families on Monday, Longobucco said, “no credible threat to staff or students existed.”
Even so, Rodrigue said on Tuesday, it seems more likely this year than previous years that a school-based threat would disrupt in-person classes in Newtown on the anniversary.
“Given what’s going on and the climate of not just Connecticut but everywhere, I think the likelihood of something happening on that day is far greater,” Rodrigue said. “This has shaken many schools during an already difficult time of year, and of course in Newtown here it is very different I think than in other communities.”
The school’s remote day is part of a larger picture of remembrance on Dec. 14 in Newtown involving church services and a moment of silence in the morning at municipal buildings.
Masses to remember the victims of the shooting are planned for 6:45 a.m., 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. at St. Rose of Lima Church. An annual interfaith service of remembrance is planned from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, with an option to watch a live stream at www.trinitynewtownct.org.
Rodrigue said the remote learning day was “the right thing to do.”
“Everyone will breathe, I hope, a sign of relief,” Rodrigue said. “I have been in consult with the local police and it is difficult for them, too…this is the best decision for the district and the community at this time or I would not be asking for it.”