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Anxiety runs high as students return to school after shooting

By Christina Armario

AP Education Writer

LAST UPDATED: 05:04 a.m. HST, Dec 17, 2012

Lily Rosell anxiously weighed whether to take her 7-year-old daughter to school today morning, the first day of classes since the Connecticut elementary school massacre that left 20 children around her child's age dead.

"I was dreading it," Rosell said outside her daughter's Miami elementary school. "I'm panicking here to be honest."

Rosell said she was looking at vans and any signs of something suspicious.

"Ultimately, if this is going to happen like it is nowadays, it could happen in a movie theater, at the mall, anywhere," she said. "It's now about being in the prayer closet a little more often."

Teachers and parents across the country were wrestling with how best to quell children's fears about returning to school for the first time since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Chicago resident Melissa Tucker dropped her 9-year-old child off at Jahn Elementary School today morning. She also has two older children.

"I really was worried about sending them to school," Tucker said. "I actually was going to keep them home today and make further calls to the school to make sure what the school is doing to protect people from coming in and out of the school and making sure the doors are locked at all times."

She said she did make those calls and learned the school would be taking extra precautions to make sure all students entering and leaving the building were where they were supposed to be and safe. She said she plans to make another stop later today to speak to school staff.

"Now I see why parents want to home school their children," Tucker said.

In Fairfax County, Va., just outside the nation's capital, schools deployed extra police as a precaution. In the elementary schools, teachers were told to acknowledge the shootings if students brought it up, but to direct discussion of the shootings to home rather than the classroom.

By the time Richard Cantlupe received the news of the Connecticut school shooting that left 20 children dead, his students about 50 miles north of Miami had already gone home for the weekend.

And so the American history teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Fla., was bracing himself for an onslaught of painful, often unanswerable questions when they returned to class today.

"It's going to be a tough day," he said. "This was like our 9/11 for school teachers."

School administrators have pledged to add police patrols, review security plans and make guidance counselors available.

And yet, it was pretty near impossible to eliminate the anxiety and apprehension many were feeling.

"For them, you need to pretend that you're OK," said Jessica Kornfeld, the mother of 10-year-old twins in Pinecrest, Fla., a suburb of Miami. "But it's scary."

Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said his agency was sending a letter to school superintendents across the state Sunday evening, providing a list of written prompts for classroom teachers to help them address the shooting in Newtown with their students.

"In many instances, teachers will want to discuss the events because they are so recent and so significant, but they won't necessarily know how to go about it," he said.

Cantlupe said he will tell his students that his No. 1 job is to keep them safe, and that like the teachers in Connecticut, he would do anything to make sure they stay out of harm's way. He is also beginning to teach about the Constitution and expects to take questions on the Second Amendment.

In an effort to ensure their students' safety and calm parents' nerves, school districts across the United States have asked police departments to increase patrols and have sent messages to parents outlining safety plans that they assured them are regularly reviewed and rehearsed.

Some officials refused to discuss plans publicly in detail, but it was clear that vigilance will be high this week at schools everywhere in the aftermath of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history: Twenty-six people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, most children ages 6 and 7. The gunman then shot and killed himself.

Dennis Carlson, superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, said a mental health consultant would meet with school officials today, and there will be three associates — one to work with the elementary, middle and high schools, respectively. As the day goes on, officials will be on the lookout for any issues that arise, and extra help will go where needed.

"We are concerned for everybody — our staff and student body and parents," Carlson said. "It's going to be a day where we are all going to be hypervigilant, I know that."

In Tucson, Ariz., where a gunman in January 2011 killed six and wounded 12 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the largest school district in the state increased security after Friday's shooting. Planning was under way at the Tucson Unified School District to help teachers and students with grief and fear, and the district was working with Tucson police on security, district spokeswoman Cara Rene said.

Many schools planned to hold a moment of silence today and fly flags at half-staff.

Meanwhile, at home, many parents were trying their best to allay their children's fears while coping with their own. Kornfeld said her town is a lot like Newtown: a place where people generally feel safe being at home without the doors locked and playing outside after school.

"Why would that happen there?" she said. "It kind of rocks everything."

She sat down with her son and daughter after school Friday and explained to them what had happened. She reminded her children that they were with her, and safe.

"But it could have been us," her son replied.

Hoping to reassure them, she drove the children to their elementary school over the weekend. She wanted them to know it was still a safe place.

"Our school is the same as it was when you left," she told them. "It's going to be fine."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Va.; Carla K. Johnson in Chicago; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala.; Brett Zongker in Washington; Bob Christie in Phoenix; Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss.; Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; Michelle Nealy in Chicago; Susan Haigh in Norwich, Conn.; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C.

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Ken_Conklin wrote:
Have you seen those T-shirts and car stickers with the slogan "Defend Hawaii" showing an assault rifle? They're sold in lots of malls and surf shops. The company selling them even had a special Christmas sale going on at Windward Mall at the same time on Sunday when President Obama was giving a nationally televised speech in the town where the massacre happened. All the "Defend Hawaii" T-shirts show the same AR-15 assault rifle used in the school massacre. One of their T-shirts shows the Kamehameha statue with the King holding an assault rifle in his outstretched hand. There were huge protests a few years ago when a tourist brochure showed the statue with the King holding a martini in his hand. But nobody seems to protest the "Defend Hawaii" junk. I think the people behind the "Defend Hawaii" company should be "outed" and ostracized, and so should the people who wear those T-shirts or display the assault rifle and slogan on their cars and pickup trucks, and the stores that sell that stuff. For details, read my short webpage at http://tinyurl.com/c2puv6p
on December 17,2012 | 05:51AM
Heinbear wrote:
I am confused. Why is it not Christmas Break already?
on December 17,2012 | 07:21AM
aomohoa wrote:
My grand kids are all in California and they get out at different times. Some this week and some next week.
on December 17,2012 | 08:25AM
Allenk wrote:
What concerns me besides the proliferation of weapons that were available to Adam Lanza was whether his mom was a responsible gun owner. All of the guns that Lanza used were registered to her. Safety should have included having them all locked in a safe. The key or combination to this safe should have been on her at all times. If one shops at Sports Authority, they sell gun safes that are used for storing these weapons. If they are simply left in a closet with easy access, then the responsibility also lies with her. The larger question is why did she have to own an assault rifle to get her kicks from shooting?
on December 17,2012 | 07:33AM
aomohoa wrote:
I don't know much about guns but why did she have bullets that explode inside of people?
on December 17,2012 | 08:26AM
johncdechon wrote:
Okay, amoeba, you admit you don't know much about guns -- I guess at least then you're not in-denial about that -- but don't you think you might want to LEARN something about them before posting all the naive, ignorant and just plain outrageously wrong things you say about them (let alone about the PEOPLE who own/carry them legally)? For example, what the heck are these so-called "exploding bullets?" News Flash: There AREN'T any (except for military weapons and usually for the large-caliber/crew-served weapons). But as for what CIVILIANS can buy in the store, there are only2 categories of ammunition ("bullets" if you will) -- FMJs and HPs (look them up) -- but not "exploding inside people" bullets. Please do some reading about guns and get up to speed before posting your incredibly uneducated stuff as you only embarrass yourself by your ignorance.
on December 17,2012 | 10:05AM
ponowai wrote:
Good comment allenk, I agree. But, the report is about how people are struggling to get back to normal lives, it is very sad and hard for some. A lot of comments of this tragedy get off topic and turn into gun debates. Ken, t-shirts an bumper stickers! If you don't like it, don't buy it. Don't use this to advertise your Web Page. My apologies to everyone, I too am getting off topic. Lets keep our comments focused on the reported stories.
on December 17,2012 | 08:32AM
W_Williams wrote:
I agreee with Ken Conklin. I hate that whole Defend Hawaii scene. I made a complaint to Windward Mall which fell on deaf ears.
on December 17,2012 | 08:18AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
Windward Mall is owned by Kamehameha Schools. One of the T-shirts sold by "Defend Hawaii" shows the Kamehameha statue holding an AR-15 assault rifle in his outstretched hand. Apparently Kamehameha Schools thinks that's OK and doesn't mind allowing a vendor to sell that junk in a store in the mall it owns. Here's the T-shirt with the King holding the assault weapon: http://big09a.angelfire.com/DefendHawaiiTShirtKamWithGun.jpg
on December 17,2012 | 09:04AM
lowtone123 wrote:
That's called selling out your social responsibilities for a buck.
on December 17,2012 | 10:02AM
johncdechon wrote:
Kids SHOULD be afraid to go to school nowadays: Those "No Guns Zones" (which aren't even "Drug Free Zones") are also called something else: "Dying Zones," as there is no one there armed (even the so-called "security" guards), as per official policy, so they're FULL of potential multiple victims. Good luck some nut-case doesn't choose THEIR school. regardless, we will hear of more such incidents in the future, I'm sure.
on December 17,2012 | 09:52AM
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