As schools nationwide welcomed students back on the first day after
Friday's deadly shooting in Newtown, Conn., teachers and parents began
walking the fine line between grief and normalcy, openness and
Uncertainty was in the air a week before Christmas
holidays, and many parents asked themselves a basic question: Should I
even send my kid to school?
"My feelings were actually not even
bringing her at all," said Joanne Nichols, who dropped her granddaughter
off at Skyland Elementary School in Greenville, S.C. Citywide,
principals and administrators got instructions to be highly visible as
students arrived, but Nichols said she thought schools should be on
lockdown all week.
Neptune, N.J., Green Grove School Principal James M. Nulle stood at the
doors, but a few parents said they were apprehensive about sending
their children in.
"It was just scary," said Alicia Byrd, whose
5-year-old son arrived a bit late. He was having trouble letting go, she
said - and so was she. Though the Connecticut shooting unfolded more
than 130 miles north of this Jersey Shore town, "someone could be a
copycat and decide they want to come to this school and do it," she
said. "I pushed through it, though, and brought him."
she talked to her son over the weekend to brace him for what he might
hear at school. She left out many details. "I just told him that
something bad happened at a school that was far, far away. I don't think
he understood - it's too much. But he said, 'OK.'"
Mich., a Detroit suburb, Carrie Chambers wrestled all weekend with what
to tell her 6-year-old son Tanner. "I know what a worrier he is," she
said. "On the same note, I want to make him aware about it. I know he is
going to hear stuff at school."
Several Detroit-area school
districts e-mailed parents to let them know schools would increase
police patrols and make counselors available. Children who hadn't heard
about the shooting Friday probably learned about it over the weekend,
said Gerald Shiener, a Birmingham, Mich., psychiatrist. "The first day
back at school is significant in a situation like this because kids will
be afraid something like that might happen, and they're wondering
whether they can be safe at school," he said.
At Plains Elementary
School in South Hadley, Mass., Principal Jillayne Flanders asked police
to park a cruiser out front. She asked teachers to arrive early,
telling them, "We need to act as normal as possible - and we need to be
really, really careful about our adult conversations."
Royersford, Pa., west of Philadelphia, Upper Providence Elementary
School Principal Melissa Patschke asked "every adult to keep their own
emotions in check." She said she wasn't worried about teachers sharing
inappropriate details. "I'm more worried that they're going to cry." She
said schools on Monday were performing "a tricky balancing act" between
welcoming kids and being watchful for trouble. "The key to their
comfort is routine and safety."
Both students and teachers had "totally normal" attendance, Patschke said.
Pawling, N.Y., interim Superintendent W. Michael Mahoney, sent out a
note urging teachers to "remove any indication of adult stress away from
our young students so that they know they are safe." One of his
teachers, Jackie Barden, lost her 7-year-old son Daniel in Friday's
At Baltz Elementary School in Elsmere, Del., the
American flag flew at half-staff, but beyond that, it was largely
business-as-usual. Cars and buses lined up in the fog, and a few parents
walked their children to the door as usual. Several districts statewide
got heightened police patrols, but Colonial School District spokeswoman
Lauren Wilson said administrators pushed for "a normal Monday," with
classes as usual. "Our goal today was not to frighten the children," she
In Fort Collins, Colo., Roy McCormick walked his daughter
Madison, 6, into Laurel Elementary School. "We were a little leery
today," he said. His sister kept her daughter out of school Monday
because the 9-year-old was scared, but Madison said she wasn't afraid to
go to school, even though she heard about the "bad man" that hurt
Administrators at the city's Poudre School District
locked schools' side doors and guarded main entrances. That gave Kay
Speer comfort as she dropped her granddaughter off. "I feel safe here,"
Mark Terry, principal of Eubanks Intermediate School in
Southlake, Texas, said Monday morning was raw and somber, "especially
among my teachers." The school serves about 650 fifth- and sixth-graders
in suburban Dallas.
"I think fifth- and sixth-graders
understand what happened, though it's pretty far away," he said. "Now
the teachers, on the other hand, are very somber, very sad."
said it's a good thing Christmas break arrives at the end of the week.
"The teachers will have a chance to be with their loved ones and kind of
get away from it a little bit."
Amid the grim mood, he said,
teachers are on the lookout for intruders. Early Monday, a teacher
marched into the office to report a stranger in the building. Turns out
it was just the assistant superintendent paying a visit. The teacher
didn't recognize her from behind.
David Thweatt, superintendent of
the Harrold school district in northwest Texas, said last week that he
believes arming his staff, much like federal air marshals, keeps kids
safe. Thweatt told Fort Worth's Star-Telegram that since
implementing his "guardian plan" in 2008, which allows an undisclosed
number of staff members and teachers to carry concealed handguns, the
tiny district hasn't had an incident.
The plan, which was heavily
criticized at the time, was meant to minimize casualties while schools
waited for police to arrive. He told the newspaper that he didn't want a
plan in which you "lock yourself in your closet and hope that an
intruder won't hurt you."
Terry predicted that Friday's shooting
would change how schools operate, but he hopes it doesn't turn them into
fortresses. "I think things will change, but I hope it doesn't change
to the extent that parents and the community aren't comfortable with
He said arming an entire school is "kind of a scary
prospect," but location matters. "In West Texas, you can be 40 miles
from any protection and any police. If somebody came in there and had a
handgun, basically they could wipe out the whole school."
car is generally stationed a few feet away from his suburban Dallas
elementary school. The middle school next door has a full-time security
presence. But, he said, "if I'm 200 miles outside of Dallas, I'm going
to wish I had a handgun."
In Clayton, Calif., east of San
Francisco, parent Kelly Marshall volunteers in the library of her
daughter's school. She said the first day back was "surreal."
a mandatory 8:15 a.m. staff meeting, Marshall said, the school
librarian said that effective immediately, all doors on campus would be
locked at all times. "Today, we had to methodically let each student in
as they approached the glass doors and we recognized them," Marshall
told USA TODAY on Facebook. "And that's the way it will be from now on."
morning announcements, she said, the principal explained that in each
class, kids would practice how to "shelter in place" to make it look as
if the classroom was empty. "I had to turn away from the kids and face
the wall as my eyes filled with tears," she said.