Tight security greets Sandy Hook students on first day in new school
MONROE, Conn. - The road to the new Sandy Hook Elementary School was paved with ribbons in the school's colors, signs of welcome and encouragement, and police officers.
School buses idled for moments Thursday morning, with green and white ribbons on their grilles, waiting to bring students to the former Chalk Hill Middle School for their first classes in three weeks. The original Sandy Hook Elementary School, in neighboring Newtown, was the site of a massacre on Dec. 14, when a lone gunman forced his way into the school and killed 20 students and six staff members, including the principal.
Officials announced Wednesday the Monroe building had been renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School. Newtown Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said the decision to carry over the name had been made by staff members. The new school shares a campus with the Jockey Hollow Middle School and is adjacent to an elementary school.
Monroe police directed traffic in front of the school, only permitting parents and buses onto the campus. Once closer to the school, a second checkpoint was set up. Police said Wednesday they would be stopping and interviewing everyone who entered the campus. One parent reported her license was checked on Wednesday when visiting the school.
By the time school began at 9:07 a.m. Thursday, there was no traffic on the road that earlier had been filled with parents and buses dropping off students. The superintendent has said there are about 500 students at the school.
Richard Wilford's son, Richie, 7, is a second-grader at Sandy Hook. Wilford said his son was "apprehensive" about going back to school Thursday, but more because of the newness of his environment, not for his safety, which was his parents' paramount concern.
Wilford, like many parents, sent his child to school on the bus and then drove in for an assembly with school officials. While there, he saw five officers within the school but he guessed there were more.
In a mid-day news conference, Monroe police Lt. Keith White said the day proceeded without "any issues." He said students were excited to be "together as a class for the first time since the tragedy."
"Watching them get off the bus most of the kids were excited, they'd seen friends they hadn't seen in a while. They were anxious to get into the hallways and meet up with the other kids," White said. "And you could see the teachers had the same response. They were quite excited to see the students all together."
Parents were told by interim principal Donna Page they were welcome to remain with their children on the first day of school. Page was the principal of Sandy Hook until her retirement in June 2010; she was succeeded by Dawn Hochsprung, who was among Adam Lanza's victims on Dec. 14.
On Thursday, White said a lecture room was filled with parents attending the assembly on school security.
"We just want to make sure everybody feels comfortable and we want to move on, and let the kids move on too," he said.
Wilford described being in the school that day as a "double-edged sword," saying the parents' presence in the school may have made the students feel like things were not back to normal.
Inside the school, he knew it was safe for his son.
"They really went above and beyond to ensure the safety of the kids and everything. There was an incredible police presence, and a presence of administrators and others who were there to make sure that the students and the parents felt safe," he said.
White did not know how many students were absent.
"Talking to the principal, attendance was very good today. Most of the students did come by bus, most of the buses were full and a lot of the classrooms were full," he said.
He also said many students sat with the therapy dogs assigned to the school.
Wilford said he never considered not sending his son back to school.
"I think it's time to return to the routine. And I believe that routine helps to re-establish security and stability," he said. "I knew that the school board had taken every reasonable precaution, and perhaps even every unreasonable precaution to make sure everything was OK. I didn't have any apprehensions about his safety."
White said school officials would not be making any public comment and were going back to business "as usual."
The original Sandy Hook Elementary School remained closed Thursday. Orange cones blocked off the entrance to the school, and a state trooper was parked in the roadway.
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