The News-Times

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

- By Rob Ryser

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.”

 ?? Tribune News Service file photo ?? Newtown schools will offer remote learning on the ninth anniversar­y of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting due to the rising number of school threats in Connecticu­t and across the country.
Tribune News Service file photo Newtown schools will offer remote learning on the ninth anniversar­y of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting due to the rising number of school threats in Connecticu­t and across the country.
 ?? ?? Rodrigue
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