For the first time since a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School and took the lives of 20 children and six adults, Newtown students are back in school this morning.
Police have said there will be officers stationed at all Newtown schools today, as an added measure of safety and security following the deadly shooting that took place the morning of Friday, Dec. 14. All schools in town were locked down for about two-and-a-half hours that day while police secured the scene at the elementary school.
When the lockdown had been lifted and as state police began to release information, students, teachers and residents — and the world — learned the horrifying news that a 20-year-old man, Adam Lanza, had reportedly shot and killed his mother Nancy in their Newtown home before forcing his way into the nearby school and killing 20 children and six adults.
Why he went to the school remains a mystery as police have not released any information about a motive. The investigation is ongoing and the school is closed as a crime scene — it will stay that way for months, police have said.
In the meantime, Sandy Hook students will be attending class at Chalk Hill in Monroe, the next town over. When they will return to the classroom has not been announced, but the stage has been set for that transition as officials from both towns met last night to solidify those plans [more on that below].
While the future of Sandy Hook School is uncertain — some in town say they would like to see it torn down and rebuilt — parents have been forced to have very difficult conversations with their children about the tragedy. Several of the parents Patch talked to over the weekend spoke of the challenges they faced in talking with their children about what had happened, and reassuring them that school is a safe place.
Standing behind the caution tape outside Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, the father of a third-grader who escaped unharmed wondered if his son would want to go back to school. He said his son's sense of safety and security had been shattered.
"I had a sense of security," he added.
Stage Set for Temporary School in Monroe
Town officials and Gov. Dannel Malloy worked to make sure nothing stood in the way of having Sandy Hook School students relocated to Chalk Hill in Monroe, the next town over from Newtown. Yesterday afternoon, Malloy signed an executive order suspending and modifying some state statutes so the plan could move forward as quickly as possible.
“Understanding that this is an emergency situation for Sandy Hook Elementary School, it is necessary to act immediately so the school can move forward with its needs,” Malloy said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “I know that I speak on behalf of all residents of the state in thanking the town of Monroe and its elected officials for acting so quickly and allowing the use of their school building at this incredibly difficult time.”
The executive order waived the legislative requirement for two public notices and a public hearing on the agreement which would have dragged out the process for another two to three weeks.
A Flurry of Procedure in Newtown
At a 7:30 p.m. emergency meeting at the Newtown Municipal Center, a host of town officials pushed through a resolution to allow Sandy Hook elementary students to use Chalk Hill School.
The Board of Selectmen convened the meeting after Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra announced the emergency protocol. In a procedural flurry, the boards of Selectmen, Education, and Finance as well as the Legislative Council opened sessions, voted unanimously and vigorously for the resolution, and closed sessions. The entire process took about five minutes.
The only comment at the meeting came from Legislative Councilman George Ferguson.
"Thank you to all of you," said Ferguson. "You're doing a wonderful job. This has been a terrible tragedy, and you've all been providing excellent and wonderful leadership. We appreciate it."
"We planned and planned" — Action in Monroe
Meanwhile, at an emergency Town Council meeting at Monroe Town Hall Monday night to vote on a resolution allowing Sandy Hook School to use the building, an emotional First Selectman Steve Vavrek expressed his belief that a higher power was at work.
"Those of us in Monroe know how long it took to figure out what to do with Chalk Hill," he said. "We planned and planned — and it wasn't our plan. It was God's plan."
The Town Council unanimously approved the resolution.
Just before the vote, Town Council Chairwoman Enid Lipeles said, "This is the worst thing that happened in America. We don't want to discuss it. We want to approve it, so you can get started."
Once the first selectman signs and executes the resolution, Town Attorney Jack Fracassini said it will be effective immediately and be good through June of 2013.
Fracassini worked on the agreement with Newtown Town Attorney David Grogins and Vavrek said there was assistance from Congressman Jim Himes' office. According to the agreement, Newtown will pay for any costs to the town of Monroe and themselves for its use of the building.
'Love and Compassion'
Prior to the vote, Town Councilman J.P. Sredzinski noted how rare it is for the council to hold emergency meetings, adding this is his first in seven years on the council.
"Although our meeting results from unspeakable tragedy, tonight's meeting serves only one purpose ... to show love and compassion for our fellow neighbors," Sredzinski said. "In a time when so many in our community and around the world are feeling helpless for those precious lives lost, we in Monroe have an opportunity to help our neighboring town. And it is my hope and prayer that we begin what will be a long, long healing process from this point forward."
Sredzinski thanked Vavrek, Llodra, State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112th) — who attended the meeting, Lipeles, the boards of education from both towns and Monroe Supt. of Schools James Agostine for working together to make everything possible.
"As we all know, there is much to be proud of in our fine community, but I can say without hesitation: I have never been as proud of my town of Monroe as I am today," Sredzinski said. "To provide a school home for all those children who have been through more than any human being should have to endure, and to welcome them with open arms is something positive we can take from this senseless tragedy. Madam chair I am in full support of the motion."
How it Happened
Vavrek said he texted Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llodra on Friday saying, "We have a building for you whenever you want to look at it."
The next day, Monroe officials met at Chalk Hill with representatives from Newtown to assess the building and Newtown's needs. Then at 7 a.m. on Sunday, both town attorneys met to work on an agreement.
"I never remember something working so quickly," Vavrek said.