Sandy Hook Elementary School is now officially located in Monroe, and students are getting excited about their new building.
Police and school officials said the gymasium in particular seems to be a big hit with students and parents who visited the school today for the first time, for an open house at the building, formerly known as Chalk Hill.
Students will return for a regular day tomorrow — their first since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators. Police declined to comment about the state of the ongoing investigation into the incident or a possible motive of the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
Newtown Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Monroe will be students' home for the remainder of the year. The fate of the elementary school in Newtown is still up in the air; a committee will be reviewing that in the coming months, Robinson said.
Creating a Safe and Warm School Environment
Monroe police officers said they are keeping members of the media and well-meaning volunteers away from the school building, so Sandy Hook students and teachers can get back into as normal a routine as possible.
Monroe Lt. Keith White said police officers are stopping cars and talking to drivers before they enter school grounds. At the same time, he said, they are trying not to overwhelm the children with the police presence and will constantly evaluate the situation to strike the right balance of creating a safe, secure school environment without making students and teachers feel like it's too heavily guarded.
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe said patrols are still beefed up in his town too, at schools and municipal buildings. There are officers in every school as well.
"We're trying to bring back some sense of normalcy," he said.
When asked if the state or federal government would fund some of the overtime being incurred by police, Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore said, "We haven't discussed finances yet. We're just trying to make it a safe and secure building."
And White said Sandy Hook students appear to be very excited about having some things in Monroe's building that they did not have in their old one. In particular, he noted with a smile, the size of the gymnasium has been the source of a great many smiles from the students.
Robinson said she is grateful to Monroe police officers for making the building safe and secure, and for the Town of Monroe for offering its building. "We've had incredible support from Monroe," she said.
"At one point there were 80 people in the building" helping to set classrooms up, Robinson said. "We're trying to make it a warm, cheerful environment."
As such, walls are adorned with snowflakes that were made by people from around the world and sent to the Newtown, as an example of one of the thousands of expressions of sympathy that have poured into the community in the weeks since the tragedy, she said. A lot of effort was also put into recreating the same look and feel of the classrooms so that they are familiar to students, Robinson added.
She declined to discuss the specifics of whether classrooms would be divided or not for the students in teacher Victoria Soto's class who survived the shooting, some of their peers were among the children killed; or how the replacement of other teachers was being handled.
The one replacement made public is that of the principal. Former Sandy Hook principal Donna Page will serve as interim, with assistance from Bruce Lazar, the former principal at Chalk Hill. Page assumes the role previously held by Sandy Hook's beloved principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed in the shooting while trying to protect her staff and students.
Turning her attention back to today's open house, Robinson said, "The children are coming in. They are so excited to see their teachers."