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No decision reached on Sandy Hook school

May 4, 2013 6:46:13 AM PDT
Newtown officials struggled Friday night to move toward a decision on what to do with the elementary school where 20 first-graders and six educators were shot to death in December, after teachers expressed grief and frustration during a closed-door session before a public meeting was held.

A task force of 28 local elected officials had been set to possibly vote on a recommendation to the local school board but continued the discussion to next Friday.

The panel had narrowed a list of choices to renovating Sandy Hook Elementary School, tearing it down and constructing a new building at the same site or building a new school on nearby property.

But several teachers told the task force Friday evening that they felt they were being left out of the process, and some said it would be too traumatic to ever work on the property again, according to task force members and school district staff who described the private session.

The panel then went into a public session and discussed other sites for a new school that previously had been ruled out, which upset some of the nearly 90 people who packed the meeting room, which had only about 25 chairs.

"I'm very confused," said Newtown resident Janet Ziperstein, who has two children who attended Sandy Hook. "It's very difficult to watch this process."

Some task force members also said they weren't sure where the process was heading. First Selectwoman Pat Llodra said time was a concern, because officials want to get a funding plan to state lawmakers before the legislative session ends next month.

Residents have mixed opinions on what should be done with the school.

Brian Engel, whose 6-year-old daughter, Olivia, died in the Dec. 14 shootings, told the task force that he and his wife want the village of Sandy Hook to have an elementary school but at a different location. He said he didn't want Olivia's younger brother to ever have to walk into the building where the massacre took place.

"We do want him to go to Sandy Hook School, but at an alternate location - not where his sister died," Engel said after the meeting.

The 430 children who survived the shootings are now attending a remodeled school in the neighboring town of Monroe that has been renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School. A few parents said Friday night they didn't want to send their children to that school for much longer.

Other residents favor renovating the existing school. Some want a new school built in Sandy Hook. Others want officials to consider using town property in other parts of Newtown for a new school.

Two psychologists, Melissa Brymer and Jill Barron, told the task force that officials in other towns where mass shootings have occurred have grappled with the same problems in deciding what to do with the shooting site. They said making that decision can be a difficult and painful process because of the strong feelings and different viewpoints.

Columbine High School in Colorado, where two student gunmen killed 12 schoolmates and a teacher in 1999, reopened several months afterward. Crews removed the library, where most of the victims died, and replaced it with an atrium.

Virginia Tech converted a classroom building where a student gunman killed 32 people in 2007 into a peace studies and violence prevention center. And an Amish community in Pennsylvania tore down the West Nickel Mines Amish School and built a new school a few hundred yards away after a gunman killed five girls there in 2006.

On the morning of Dec. 14, gunman Adam Lanza, who had killed his mother at their Newtown home, went to Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing the 20 children and the six adults. He killed himself as police arrived at the school.

Police have not disclosed a possible motive for the killings. Law enforcement officials have said Lanza showed an interest in other mass killings and played violent video games.

Whatever choice the task force recommends will be sent to the town's Board of Education. Any plan would have to be approved by voters at referendum.

One panel member, Laura Roche, said there was no way she would support reopening the school.

"To me, that is always going to be a site where 26 people were murdered," she said.


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