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.