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A Mother Informs Herself to Advocate for Her Children

One of Allison Koziol's children was in Sandy Hook School on Dec. 14. In trying to figure out what's best for her children moving forward, she talked to survivors of other school shootings. Here's what they had to say and what Koziol thin

I am a mom; a mom who needs to advocate for her children; a mom who needs to advocate, especially, for her child that was in Sandy Hook School on December 14th.

Each day my child asks when she can go back to “my school.” When asked why, the answer is consistently, “because it’s my school and it’s better.”

When the topic of what to do with the school came up I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to educate myself so that I could properly advocate for my child. Since this is such an unprecedented situation I knew that there would be no hard facts from which to draw knowledge. The only option I had was to look to what comes closest.

I currently work in behavioral health in Bridgeport, CT. Our clientele tend to be those who have witnessed and experienced trauma that the average person will be blessed to not be able to even imagine in a lifetime, let alone experience. I have had many lengthy discussions with my colleagues asking, from the experiences that they’ve observed with their clients, what they believe the best option is for the children of Sandy Hook School.

Like with every other discussion on this topic there is no definitive answer as to what is best. The only answer that has been consistent has been that the children’s voices need to be heard and that their voiced desires need to be considered. Another running theme is that returning to the school is a definite option for some of the children with the right mental health professionals on hand.

My next step was contacting the survivors of Columbine. I have had direct contact with Dana Scott who is the sister of Rachel Scott, the first victim of Columbine, and Craig Scott who was also in the library that day and witnessed the murder of two of his close friends who were right next to him. Below is a quote from our correspondence:

“There was much initial talk about tearing the school down, but the student body protested, saying ‘This is our school and we are not going to let the gunmen win.’…I guess my thoughts are, that my family would tend to agree with you, that if the majority of the students and staff want to take back their school, then I think that it can truly help on the road to recovery and healing and not allowing the evil that took place that horrible day to reign. Given that your children were also so much younger than the high school students at Columbine, that might possibly make it easier to help them overcome the bad memories and help them create so many good ones over the years.”

Dana also gave me the following link to an interview with Craig: http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/01/14/newtown-shooting-one-month-later-craig-scott

I have also been in contact with Crystal Woodman Miller, who shared the following with me:

“Personally, I went back and forth and back and forth in just he ten days alone, before returning to school to finish the year out. Some days I didn't want to return to school at all, other days, I wanted to transfer schools, other days I wanted nothing but to return to Columbine… As far as the school was concerned, there was never a question in the minds of most students that we would return to that building. Sure, a great tragedy occurred there, and some students were afraid (I was very afraid), but it was our school. We took great pride in being Columbine Rebels. We took great pride in our beautiful building. We had memories there. We made friends, had dances, gatherings, school spirit assemblies, classes that shaped us and molded us. The two boys who committed the atrocious acts at our school, wanted to destroy us, our building, our resolve, our spirits and WE were not going to let them win. They weren't going to take those things from us. They had already taken enough from us, but this, they would not take. They were not going to win. Fear would not control us- we would take our school back in essence.”

Kristi Mohrbacher shared the following with me:

“From my perspective, I would say that it's really important for the kids (and parents) to return to the school, but everyone is different. Everyone's grieving process will be very different and their needs are going to be different too. After the shooting at Columbine, we attended our rival high school in the afternoons (I think from about noon - 5pm or something like that) until the school year was over in May, and we returned to Columbine in the fall of '99. There was a big event, and lots of school spirit, and tons of people from the community came out to show support. And we paid tribute to the victims. Personally, it was all very therapeutic, I think. Even just thinking back on it makes me tear up, it was pretty special and emotional. I think the most important thing was being together and knowing we weren't going through it alone. Crystal and I were seniors that next year, and we got to spend the year making memories beyond the horrific day of the shooting. There were good days and bad days. Personally, I was completely numb until about 6 months after the actual shooting, and that's when I went through my grieving/recovery process. But we have really amazing memories with friends and teachers who had good and bad days with us. I always felt so bad for the seniors the year of the shooting, because school essentially ended, (except for the two weeks at our rival high school), and then they headed off into the world or to college and didn't get to come back for a year and have the counseling options, or support that our class had…As great as going back to Columbine was for me, there were kids that couldn't come back and transferred schools. Which I understand as well. So, everyone's needs will be different.”

There are many others that I could quote but for the sake of space and time I will refrain. Because these people have been there and lived through a horror similar to what our children at SHS have experienced I tend to put some value on their input. When speaking of the way things were handled that made things more positive for the students of Columbine Mrs. Miller said:

“Just as Krisit talked about, the day we returned to Columbine was a powerful, impactful day. That is one of the most amazing days after the shootings for our community. We gathered as a student body with teachers, administrators and hundreds of community members in our school parking lot. We had a huge assembly, where we honored those we had lost, but also vowed to be stronger, and better to honor the lives lost. The community lined up, cheered us on, gave us high fives as we stormed the building to take it back once and for all. We entered to read the words that always brought us great comfort ‘Through these halls walk the finest students in America, the students of Columbine High School.’ I remember walking shoulder to should with my friends and classmates, under those words, thinking, ‘We are going to be ok.’…I love how it was handled by our administrators, and educators and local government. They empowered us to choose what was best for us. Some chose to return and others did not. No one was judged or questioned, each person was thoroughly supported in their own decision. Outsiders did not decide what they thought was best for us, but rather, allowed us as students who went through the shootings, as well as teachers and administrators who were there that day to make the choice. The majority of us chose to stay and rebuild our school for better… You and your children will be the ones returning and spending time there. Not government officials and district educators. They should listen to students and value their opinions over any others.”

Many people are saying that the children need to stay together. The reality of the dynamics of elementary schools is such that the children are not one unit. Unless there are siblings involved or the children are on the same bus or from the same neighborhood there is no real interaction.

First graders on the whole don’t tend to know third graders. Second graders don’t tend to know fourth graders. Even the children at the same grade level don’t stay together from year to year. If you ask my daughter about a child she had in kindergarten and hasn’t had in the following years she’ll be puzzled as to whom you’re referring. The notion of the children staying together is nice in theory but that seems to be more for the parents than the children.

The one constant for them has been the school so, while people are using the “we need to keep the kids together” argument, I believe at this age there will be very little detriment to allowing the children to be split according to who needs to go back and who can’t. Not allowing those that need to return in order to keep children together with others that they quite possibly don’t know or with whom they will never interact seems counterproductive to me.

As for allowing a board to make the final decision, how can they do that, representing all of our input when so few of us have given that input?

I have been approached by people on several occasions saying that they want their children to return to school but not one of them was comfortable voicing that in public.

Also, does that board consist of members of the board of education? I have already read the following in the News-Times:

"’It should be demolished,’ said John Vouros, a member of the Newtown Board of Education.

Though the board has not yet officially discussed what might become of Sandy Hook Elementary, Vouros said a new school should be built elsewhere.”

How can this person, who has no ties to SHS other than to be on the Board of Ed. and who has already made up his mind, make an unbiased decision? And I’m sure he’s not the only one.

I understand that there are pitfalls to allowing parents to have a direct vote. I understand that people will say that “fourth grade parents would have no real vested interest,” and, “what about the incoming kindergarten parents?”, but, as we have already heard on numerous occasions, you can’t get a 100% agreement on these things.

My suggestion is to allow those that were there on that day to feel like they have some degree of control back. Allow us to vote. I know that there’s a very good chance that what I want for my child will be voted down but at least I’ll feel that I was given a chance to be heard. I can live with that more easily than giving the vote to some board members without the same personal connection to the situation.

My final hope in all of this, should the decision be made that my child can’t return to her beloved school, is that the families that have a desire to return be given the opportunity.

All six of my children, from the one that was there that day, to the one who is currently a freshman in college, feel that they have lost some degree of power in their world. They feel that the place they loved and started out their school careers is being taken from them. They feel that their existence as Sandy Hook Students is being erased.

I’d like the opportunity to take my family back to the school, should the decision be made to demolish that beautiful place, so that we can have the opportunity to leave there on our terms not on the terms of some mentally ill individual. We want the chance to say our goodbyes and close a chapter if we’re forced to do so.

Laura Cooney January 28, 2013 at 07:36 PM
Thank you for taking the time to post this article. I agree with almost all of your sentiments. As a mother of a second grader who was just across the hall that day, I too have been considering what our best options for the school are going forward and for my family the answer is: we need to go back. Reading the statements from the Columbine survivors only further confirmed this feeling for me. There is wisdom in following in the paths of those who went before us and my son desperately wants to return to his school. It is also my personal belief that returning to the school would be a vital step in my son's healing process, a step that I hope the town doesn't take away from us and those like us. I have also considered that this sentiment may seperate my son from some of his friends. But ultimately each family needs to do what is best for them while being respectful that others may need something completely different. Perhaps the best solution is for us to split. Those who can return go back to a renovated school, while those that can't return can be together in another facility through their fourth grade years. No solution is perfect, but maybe that way some large portion of our community won't feel their needs were ignored in the end.
AT January 28, 2013 at 07:53 PM
The only thing that will make everyone happy is for it to be Dec.13th again. Unfortunately, we need to come to terms with the fact that no matter what is done ...on any front...it is still going to feel like Sept 12th for a very, very long time.
onceuponanewtown January 28, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Maybe conduct an informal vote for parents, teachers, staff and students of SH School.
Rhonda Cullens January 28, 2013 at 08:06 PM
There is no easy answer here. Everyone grieves differently and the healing process will not be the same for all. I believe the teachers and staff at SHS are what makes it such a wonderful place for the children of our community. As such, I believe their individual and collective voice should carry the most weight in this discussion. I know there were going to be meetings where their voices would be heard, but I don't know if this has happened yet or not. I would be very interested in hearing what came out of those meetings. Like Allison pointed out, there are always people that don't want to voice their opinions though especially if they feel they are in the minority. I'd like to see the SHS staff be given an anonymous questionnaire to express what they'd like to see happen going forward, including a space for their comments and suggestions. It would be helpful if they indicated on the form which grade, if any, they were connected with. If the results indicated that the teachers and staff would not/could not return to the old SHS building, or even if most of the 1st and 2nd grade teachers who were the closest to the traumatizing event wouldn't return, would we as a community really support a decision to return to that building knowing it would require hiring a new staff?
Barb January 28, 2013 at 08:25 PM
My first grader witnessed her teachers and friends murdered in front of her and managed to run passed the gunman and escape. Want her to go back there?? Never will happen...
Richard Hooker January 28, 2013 at 08:31 PM
Sorry, Marci, I disagree, there are multiple options of available properties that are available for future consideration of a new school. Pat made this announcement at the last PTA meeting.
Rhonda Cullens January 28, 2013 at 08:32 PM
I don't know who will ultimately have the final decision in this, but I'm confident it won't just be some "outside government agency." I'm very grateful we have Pat Llodra as our First Selectman helping guide this process and making sure all viewpoints are heard. As a former educator, she will have insights from other perspectives as well. Also, just to clarify, the statement above referring to John Vouros, as someone "who has no ties to SHS other than to be on the Board of Ed." is not accurate. John used to be the teacher for the Gifted and Talented program in town for many years before budget cuts forced a change in the program he developed. Students in that program from all of the Elementary Schools met with him at the Middle School mornings and then were bused back to their schools, including SHS. So he was very instrumental in the lives of many SHS students in years past. His wife was also a teacher at the Middle School who taught many of the SHS Alumni. It's not like he's some guy that just moved into town that thought he'd get on the BOE. He knows Newtown and Sandy Hook and is entitled to voice his opinion too, but hopefully will considered all facts when it comes time to make an official vote in his capacity on the Board.
Toni Earnshaw January 28, 2013 at 08:42 PM
The staff/teachers must have a very strong say in this. It is their workplace and they will be there long after the children grow and leave.
Fred January 28, 2013 at 09:05 PM
If the teacher feels they cannot go back that is their choice. There are people in real poverty and some are asking to be kept together but at a new location, effectively build me a new school, that is a tall order. There is nothing cruel in the town saying we would love to have you, we gave the place a face lift, we understand if you choose otherwise. To take off of the table what all other communities have done, return, is not fair to those that want to return. Maybe their is something wrong with me, but I cannot figure out how we got to "a whole new school" discussion. Most of the children the school is built to comfort will never see it. We got dealt a terrible blow, that does not make us entitled to take money away from those that need it (lets not kid ourselves, there is no zero sum gain) or saddle the town with bonds that will take decades to pay off. No one should be forced to return, but the school should be reopened if Sandy Hook wants to keep an elementary school in its district. Everyone else went back, Erin, above said this is the first time this has happened in our country. If a new model car has an accident that is the first accident of that new model car, it is far from the first car accident...
Susan McGuinness Getzinger January 28, 2013 at 11:09 PM
Thank you. Well written and well thought out. Thank you.
Marcia January 29, 2013 at 01:22 AM
Barb, My prayers are with you & your daughter...
Marci January 29, 2013 at 01:51 AM
Then I misunderstood because I was at the PTA meeting and what I heard was that the only other properties in Sandy Hook were directly abutted to the school property, so while a new building might not have to be on the same footprint, it would have to be in the same area or the other option was FFH. What did I miss - what were the other locations that she referred to? If we had another option in Sandy Hook, I would certainly support that over the FFH option.
Newtown Listens January 29, 2013 at 05:25 AM
It is so important to leave it to the teachers, the kids live at the school for a few years, the teachers and staff are there (hopefully) for a career. Many kids worry about change and their old Sandy Hook was familiar. One month in the new building is not near enough time for a child to call the new school their own. When families move for work, it takes some kids months to adjust, some welcome the change right away. K-4 is a whole different age group from the high schoolers in Columbine to even compare the responses. There are high schoolers here, alum of SHS, that want to see the school torn down. When asked, they said they would want their own school torn down if it had happened there. They truly believe the memories are in the people, not the building. This may not be the opinion of all or even a majority of the older kids from town, but it is just as important as any voice. Should the decision be to take down the building, I do think that some kids might need the opportunity to revisit the school, it should be in the spirit of empowerment, not weakness or sorrow for a building being destroyed. They should be able to claim the space that they went to school in. No one should feel uncomfortable voicing their thoughts and opinions in public. If the community has an environment where people don't think their voice can be heard, there is more of an issue here than what happens to the school building.
M Life January 29, 2013 at 03:07 PM
Listen, the problem with public forums and posts like these is that it gives everyone a say. This maybe great for therapy, but will ultimately result in very different takes because we are all different in our thoughts, personalities, and values. A vote all though democratic and nice wouldn't way the teachers, parents directly effected any differently from parents not "as effected" towns open new schools all the time and kids make the move, an its never an issue. What doesn't happen everyday, is asking a group of people, teachers, children, and others to return to a scene of a mass murder. I think its insane that people would ask even one child, one teacher, one parent who couldn't go to stomach that. It will ultimately drive people out of town! Think of all the kids! Who would leave town because we built a new building? Nobody! But people will leave if we tried to force all back to the scene of a horrible crime! We didn't rebuild the towers, and I haven't heard people thinking the terrorist won. The memorial is immensely popular and a very tasteful idea. Lets get it right! Be serious new school vs forcing kids, parents, teachers, and staff to HAVE to go back. Which side would be given the larger burden? Hopefully you have the vision to see!
Fred January 29, 2013 at 04:53 PM
Did you really just ask us to "listen" in order to tell us "the problem with a public forums and posts like these is that it gives everyone a say"? Am I the only one who sees the irony in that? As far as your comments on burdens and who has how much say in the decision, can you please try to include a calculator and a calendar in your analysis, we are considering building a new school at great cost for children who may never step foot in it. I do agree that certain people cannot go back, though, and I am sure I will get virtual eggs thrown at me for this, there are many claiming to be in that group who are not giving themselves or their children enough credit and would be glad upon reflection for having summoned the strength to return. I am going to type it again just because I got such a kick out of it “Listen, the problem with public forums and posts like these is that it gives everyone a say”. Ipso facto, if we could just figure out how to have public forums and posts like these without giving everyone a say they would be great!
SDK January 30, 2013 at 02:05 AM
Unless your child was also in the school that day, you may want to listen respectfully even if you disagree.
AT January 30, 2013 at 03:15 AM
Stupid? Crazy? Why? B/c she has a different, equally valid, informed and established approach to coping with this? She’s a parent like me with nothing to gain by ‘cramming her wish down anyone’s throat’ certainly not her own child’s! There isn’t a kick-back program to go back. I’m asking for that option b/c I believe it is in my child’s best interests (and yes, he asks despite his proximity). We all think about that day-everyday-regardless of our surrounding walls. I haven’t heard anyone suggest another should be forced to return. Providing an alternative to go a mile up the road for 2+years until Reed isn’t akin to driving anyone out of town. There isn’t a blank check on the table –funds have to come from someone/somewhere and a new school takes years. This isn’t the 1st time a school (including elementary) faced this dilemma. Everyone loses in the ‘my tragedy was bigger than yours’ game. That girl at Columbine hiding in the library while kids she grew up with and sat next to everyday were suddenly shooting at her and killing her classmates – let’s think before belittling it as any easier or ‘no comparison.’ I can’t imagine those parents and siblings suffered any less b/c their victims were a few yrs older.
Kat January 30, 2013 at 03:01 PM
I'm writing as a parent of two SHS students who were at the school that day. During the first week following the shooting they both asked when they could go back and indicated that they wanted to. However, after attending two of their friends' funerals, their shock wore off and the fears sunk in - now neither child wants to go back in that building. Luckily for them they won't have to - they will likely both be at Reed by the time a decision is made. We can't really compare our elementary school children (5-10 year olds) with the Columbine high school kids. They just don't have the same reasoning abilities yet. The Columbine students could reason that they were being strong and "taking back" their school. Our kids just now know that there are bad/scary people in the world and that school is not safe. Their innocence and sense of safety has been taken away. I don't have a strong feeling either way about rebuilding or not, but I do feel strongly that the most weight should be given to the wishes of the wonderful SHS teachers & staff, and the families most affected.
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 09:42 PM
If you read clearly what I wrote I am doing the opposite of trying to cram my wish down anyone's throat. I am asking for what my child needs for MY child not for everyone else's. I'm not asking for everyone else to go back. I'm asking that we who have children that want to go back have their needs taken into consideration. As for my input with my child, I work in the field of mental health and I know not to impose my desires on my child. I am also a mother who WILL advocate for my child because that's my job too. Just curious...did you have a child in that school that day?
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 09:44 PM
Thanks, June. I appreciate the grammar lesson and I'll try to remember for the next time. : )
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 09:48 PM
Thanks for the input, Erin. I agree that the teachers feelings must be taken into consideration as do those of the rest of the staff and students. I just needed to make my voice heard for my child. Peace to you also. : )
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 09:50 PM
Thanks, Jessica. I would never presume to make the decision for the masses but I had to make sure that I spoke up for my child. : )
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Hey AT. Good points made for those who are more concrete thinkers. Thanks for sharing.
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Just to clarify, I have only spoken once and that was at the SHS only meeting. As a matter of fact, I have only attended that one meeting because I felt that it would be too difficult listening to a bunch of non SHS parents voice their opinions. I like to think things through and do my research before I react from emotion.
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 09:59 PM
That's all I'm asking for. : )
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 10:02 PM
Beautifully said, Laura. : )
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Marci, you're very right...there is no right answer. However, while I want my daughter to be given the opportunity to go back, I will now have peace in whatever decision is made because I know I advocated for her.
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Rhonda, I also thought a survey was worth doing. I love the way you lay it out and it would be ridiculously simple with Survey Monkey (not to mention free). I also have to say that I would fully support the staff if they were unable to return. I advocate for my child and I would love to make her wish come true but the reality is that these kids will move on and chances are that a good portion of the staff will stay intact for years to come. I'd love for my child to be able to go back but I would be at peace if the staff expresses that they can't and that's the deciding factor.
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 10:27 PM
I would never presume to say that your child should go back. She needs what's right for her. I pray that she is blessed with a peace and joy quickly. : )
Allison Koziol January 30, 2013 at 10:31 PM
Rhonda, I know that John was the teacher for the gifted program and I was devastated when that position was cut the year that my daughter entered. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about what he did with the program. I should have been more clear in that statement and said that he currently has no ties other than being a BOE member.

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