Education Week - January 9, 2013 - (Page 14)

14 EDUCATION WEEK n JANUARY 9, 2013 n AFTER NEWTOWN Post-Tragedy, Difficult Choices Loom Where and when to resume classes is just the start By Lesli A. Maxwell & Jaclyn Zubrzycki Less than four hours after a 14-year-old boy opened fire at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., killing three students and wounding five others, the principal had to begin making difficult choices. Should school resume the next day? And, if so, should students and staff members return so soon to the place where an unimaginable scene of horror had unfolded? Those were the first of many weighty decisions for Bill Bond, who was Heath High’s principal on the December day in 1997 when a freshman showed up on campus heavily armed and began shooting at students who had gathered for a morning prayer group. As the community of Newtown, Conn., continues to mourn the 20 children, the principal, and five other staff members who were gunned down last month by an armed intruder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, other educators who have been through similarly horrific events said school leaders there face a series of wrenching decisions about how to pick up the pieces and move forward amid immeasurable loss and grief. As they make logistical decisions, officials must be mindful of the emotions of staff members, students, parents, and themselves. Longer-term considerations about how to commemorate the victims also await. Last week, Sandy Hook Elementary students and staff members returned to school for the first time since the Dec. 14 shootings. Classes resumed in a borrowed middle school building in Monroe, Conn., a neighboring town. Newtown leaders had made that decision within a few days of the shootings, while also choosing to return to a normal schedule for the district’s six other schools four days after the gunman’s attack. Donna Pagé, a retired former principal of Sandy Hook, was selected to lead the school through the transition. Dawn L. Hochsprung, the beloved and energetic leader who was killed, had been principal since 2010. There are lessons and resources to draw from other communities that have experiences similar tragedies. Connecticut’s state education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, said leaders in the 5,500-student Newtown district have sought advice from officials in Jefferson County, Colo., where two student gunmen killed 12 other students and one teacher at Columbine High School in April 1999 before killing themselves. One of the first decisions is when to return to school and where. “Timing the return to school is very important,” said Cynthia Stevenson, the superintendent of the 84,000-student Jefferson County district. “You have to allow for the time for families to go to these memorials.” Students at Columbine did not return to school for two weeks following the shootings, and when they did, they attended classes at another high school in the district, said Ms. Stevenson, who was the deputy superintendent at the time. In West Paducah, “for us, the answer was yes, we had to come back the next day,” said Mr. Bond, who retired from the school in 2000 after the last of the students wounded in the shootings graduated. “When I asked the shooter, ‘Why did you do this?’ he said to me, ‘I want to be in control.’ If we had shut down school the next day, he would have been.” Mr. Bond, who now advises districts and schools on safety issues as a specialist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said that decision was one of the best he made following the violence at his school. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the right choice in other school crisis scenarios, he said. tance team for the National Association of School Psychologists. Ms. Paine was working in the Springfield, Ore., school district when a freshman at Thurston High School opened fire in the school’s cafeteria in 1998, killing two students and wounding 25 others. Leaders there decided that students would return to Thurston High a few days after the shooting, which was confined to the school’s cafeteria. To smooth the return, school leaders opened the building and brought in a massage therapist, food, and a therapy dog a few days before classes resumed so people could get comfortable in the space, Ms. Paine said. Still, it was difficult for many to go into the cafeteria, and school leaders offered students and staff an alternative place on campus to eat lunch. In some cases, and potentially at Sandy Hook, the trauma may be too great to return to the same campus. After the massacre at Columbine High, administrators wrestled with that issue for weeks, in close consultation with victims’ families and the broader school community, before deciding to return to the building at the beginning of the next school year, after major renovations, said Ms. Stevenson. “Be prepared for strong emotions on both sides,” she said. “We ultimately decided that evil was not going to win, and we would go back.” So soon after the Newtown attack, discussions about the ultimate fate of the Sandy Hook campus have not started, said Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut education department. Supporting Communities Following such wrenching events, school leaders have to provide a steady supply of mental-health professionals for support, as well as ample opportunities for people to vent, grieve, and console one another while they are at school, said Mr. Bond. He emphasized that providing psychologists and social workers who are independent of the school system is also crucial. After the shootings at Heath High, Mr. Bond said, his biggest mistake was not Easing a Return Each situation is unique, but generally, getting students and staff members back to class and to a routine is good, said Cathy Paine, a retired school psychologist who leads an emergency-assis- providing enough time to his teachers in the early weeks after the incident to grieve together and air their emotions. When none of the school’s staff retired, transferred, or otherwise left Heath after the shootings, even at the end of the school year, Mr. Bond said he was amazed. The tragedy even seemed to deepen the staff’s commitment to the school, and especially to affected students. In other school shooting cases, the crisis was compounded by departures of school leaders, teachers, and students. The 2005 shootings at Red Lake High School on an American Indian reservation in Minnesota killed eight people, including the student gunman. By September, a third of the staff members had left, and one year after the incident, half the staff had gone, said Mr. Bond, who worked with educators in that community during its recovery. “It was a huge loss to students, on top of what they had already lost,” he said. “Administrators need to do whatever it takes to hold on to those faculty and keep that community together to heal.” Mental-health needs after such trauma tend to ripple into the months and years At Sandy Hook, Grim Day Unfolds By Nirvi Shah A shooting near a school. No, at a school. Some hurt. No, dead. Including children. Beginning with a 911 call at about 9:35 a.m. on Dec. 14, the information pouring out of Newtown, Conn., became more grim by the second. The most staggering news took nearly the entire day to confirm: Twenty 1st graders—children just 6 and 7 years old—and six of their teachers and school leaders had been killed by a gunman so bent on destruction he shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a high-powered rifle, mowed down his victims in minutes, then committed suicide as police approached him. “Call for everything,” first responders were heard saying to dispatchers via radio. But they soon backed off. There were few people to save because, for most of the victims, it was already too late. Just two people injured by gunfire survived, and they will be key witnesses in the police investigation. Stories of the heroism of teachers, Principal Dawn L. Hochsprung, the school psychologist, and other staff members quickly emerged in news accounts. (For a full list of those who died, see box on Page 15.) Some sacrificed their lives in an attempt to thwart the shooter. Others, hearing an unfamiliar popping and banging over the school’s public-address system, sealed their young charges into restrooms and closets. They urged them to be quiet and told them they were loved, lest those be the final words they would hear. Families gathered at a nearby firehouse, waiting as excruciating minutes—then hours—elapsed, for word of their children’s safety. Law-enforcement officials had the bleak chore of identifying 20 tiny and six adult bodies, each riddled with multiple wounds, and of accounting for every one of Sandy Hook’s 500 students before notifying parents that their child was, or wasn’t, among the dead. Nation’s Sorrow Before all the victims had been identified, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation, wiping away a tear at one point, and, at another, pausing for more than 10 seconds to gather himself before going on. “The majority of those who died today were children—beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams,” he said. “So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost,” he continued. “Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors, as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.” Then he called for “meaningful action” to prevent similar violence. He was speaking from a press briefing room named in honor of James Brady, the White House press secretary who was shot and seriously wounded along with President Ronald Reagan in 1981. “May God bless the memory of the victims,” President Obama said, “and, in the words of Scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.” Ultimately, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy broke the news to families, whose numbers had dwindled to those of the victims. First responders, he said, seemed reluctant. “I made the decision that—to have that go on any longer—was

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 9, 2013

Education Week - January 9, 2013
State Lawmakers Gear for Action On Broad K-12 Issues Menu
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Teachers Seek Specialized Peer Networks
Shootings Revive Debates on Security
Student-Press Ruling Resonates From 1988
News in Brief
Report Roundup
FOCUS ON: INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE: IB Supporters Tout Program’s Links With Common Core
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Federal Effort Aims to Bridge Ed. Tech., Learning Sciences
U.S. Students Exceed International Average, But Lag Some Asian Nations in Math, Science
New Global Results Spark Questions On Finland’s Standing
Head Start Gains Found to Fade By 3rd Grade in Latest Study
Testing Group Selects Exam to Gauge ‘College Readiness’
State Chiefs Pledge Teacher Prep, Licensing Upgrades
Blogs of the Week
Post-Tragedy, Difficult Choices Loom
At Sandy Hook, Grim Day Unfolds
Legal, Logistical Concerns Seen In Call to Arm Adults
Tragedy Sets Off Fresh Debate Over Federal Gun-Policy Role
Advocates Worry Shootings Will Deepen Autism’s Stigma
K-12 Aid Outlook Murky, Despite ‘Cliff’ Deal
District Race to Top Winners Split $400 Million Pot
Policy Brief
Top State Ed. Positions Turn Over as Year Ends
CAROLYN LUNSFORD MEARS: After the Tragedy, What Next?
DAVID YOUNG & J.B. BUXTON: Language Education We Can Use
W. JAMES POPHAM: Formative Assessment’s ‘Advocatable Moment’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JEFFREY R. HENIG: Reading the Future of Education Policy

Education Week - January 9, 2013