Children returning to classes across Connecticut Monday will see uniformed police officers in and around their schools as officials grapple with how to handle concerned parents and anxious students following the massacre Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
School administrators over the weekend posted on school district websites instructional videos and psychologists' tips on how to talk to their children about violence in anticipation of what's expected to be a tough day for many schools and their students.
Officials said they hope the increased police patrols and heightened safety awareness will not raise the anxiety of children already struggling with details they may know about the killings.
"I know Friday was one of the toughest for school superintendents, the worst nightmare any of us could fathom," Cheshire Schools Superintendent Greg J. Florio said Sunday. He said he expects Monday to be just as rough, similar to the day children first returned to school after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's kind of a fine balance we have to keep," Florio said. "You know that people are aware of the situation but you want to have as much of a sense of normalcy as you can."
By the time the school bell rings Monday morning, some school staff members will already have met to discuss security and other issues related to Friday's shooting. Other meetings took place over the weekend and included input from parents and residents without students.
Students at several schools will see police officers during the morning drop-off and at other times during the school day.
"Police are a visible presence throughout the year but will be especially so next week," Canton Superintendent of Schools Kevin Case said Sunday. Patrol cars will be parked in front of the three school buildings and officers will be inside.
Florio said the police presence is for "self-assurance" for students who may be anxious about the safety of their school.
"We'll obviously be paying extra attention to security [this week], making sure everything is as safe as possible," said Tom Moore, West Hartford's assistant superintendent for administration.
Moore said there will not be police officers in schools that don't normally have them, but "people will probably notice extra patrols" in school areas.
Grief counselors are ready in most schools to talk with students who need to talk about the tragedy, administrators said.
"We think there are going to be a lot of people needing support," Windsor Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Villar said Sunday. The district's crisis intervention team is ready, Villar said, to assist families and students as needed.
Florio said teachers are not going to try to explain what happened "in any greater depth" than what they have learned at home but will be ready to get students with concerns any help they may need. Florio said he has even instructed the district's school bus drivers "not to say anything inappropriate" related to the shooting.
Wallingford Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said schools are not planning to discuss the shooting in classes. However, he said, Wallingford teachers will be ready if the conversation comes up and will approach any discussion based on a student's developmental level.
While there is not going to be an acknowledgment of the shooting for the district's younger students, Menzo said he does plan to memorialize the slain Newtown children with students in grades 6 through 12. On Monday, the older children will observe a moment of silence in their memory.
In the coming weeks, schools will be reviewing their safety policies as well as going over emergency drills.
Villar said he was also planning to meet with police and building principals on Wednesday to review the district's crisis plan.
"It's a good plan but there's always something you can learn from these things," Villar said.
Nowhere will the attention to safety be greater than in Monroe. The town's Chalk Hill School will be used for Sandy Hook Elementary School students, Monroe Superintendent James Agostine said Sunday.
Agostine said he is not sure when Sandy Hook students will arrive, but said his district is already getting the school ready for them.
"We are happy to assist in some way," Agostine said.
Monroe school officials must reassure parents, staff and students that Monroe's schools are safe, he said. They must also prepare to reopen Chalk Hill School, a middle school that closed almost two years ago.
When Monroe school officials learned Friday of the shooting in Newtown, the district followed lockdown procedures. Some elements of a lockdown will remain in place on Monday, Agostine said. There will be limited access to school buildings and a police officer will be stationed at every school, he said.
"We want to reassure staff and students that they are secure," Agostine said.
Agostine added that counselors will be available for anyone who needs help. Building principals will meet with their staff members early Monday to talk about the shooting, and Agostine said classroom teachers know how to talk to their students about the situation.
Agostine said letters about the shooting and the precautions the district is taking were sent to parents this past weekend.