9 Years After Sandy Hook Massacre, Newtown Students Attend Classes Remotely Amid Threats to Other Schools

Amid a rash of anonymous threats across the nation, including in Connecticut, the district is keeping students home on the day of the shooting

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The scene outside Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Photo: Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee/ZUM

Nine years ago, on a brisk Friday morning, 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had just started their day when they were fatally shot.

With so many children killed in such an unspeakable manner, many hoped that the massacre on Dec. 14, 2012, would convince legislators to enact policies to curb school shootings.

That didn't happen. School shootings have been on the rise ever since, including the most recent tragedy on Nov. 30, 2021, when four students were killed at Oxford High School in Michigan.

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Sandy Hook shooting.

As a result, on Dec. 7. 2021, the Newtown Board of Education approved a proposal by Superintendent of Schools Lorrie Rodrigue's to keep students and educators home on the day of the shooting's anniversary.

The day "is always difficult for so many staff, students, and families," Rodrigue wrote in a letter to parents and staff.

"Aside from the emotion this day evokes, we often have to deal with calls or anonymous threats that raise levels of stress for the entire school community," she wrote.

"Three years ago, we evacuated Sandy Hook School due to a threatening call to the main office," she continued. "Anonymous threats add to the level of anxiety, and our goal this year is to minimize the level of stress on students, parents, and staff given the current climate."

The stress is very real. Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, "There have been more than 350 school shootings, 28 in this year alone," said Scarlett Lewis, whose son, Jesse Lewis, 6, was killed in the Newtown shooting. "Why does this keep happening?"

Proactive Approaches to Preventing School Shootings

Since 2012, Lewis and other parents of children who died that day have dedicated their lives to finding ways to stop these shootings from happening again.

As founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, Lewis is trying to prevent school shootings through her award-winning program that teaches social and emotional intelligence and effective coping skills to students and adults.

Nigel Parry

The Choose Love for Schools program is a no-cost, "Character Social Emotional Development" program for Pre-K through 12th grades, "designed to teach students, educators and staff how to choose love in any circumstance thereby creating a safer, more connected school culture," according to its website, ChooseLoveMovement.org.

"There are two ways to handle school shootings — reactively or proactively," Lewis says.

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Active shooter drills and "hardening schools" with panic buttons, metal detectors, and other reactive security measures "are good, but clearly not enough," she says.

Instead, she says, "we need to incorporate a proactive and preventative approach that addresses the root cause of these school shootings as well as the escalating anxiety, depression, suicide, mental illness, and substance abuse issues.

"We can teach our children how to face difficulty, challenges in their lives, by teaching social and emotional and coping skills," Lewis says.

Jesse Lewis. Courtesy Scarlett Lewis

Healthy coping skills will "neutralize the threat a decade before it happens" and "cultivate well-adjusted, mentally healthy kids that flourish," she says.

'Know the Warning Signs'

Mark Barden's son Daniel, 7, and Nicole Hockley's son Dylan, 6, were among the children who were killed at in the Sandy Hook shooting.

Daniel and Mark Barden. Courtesy of the Bardens

Since then, they have co-founded Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that combats gun violence in numerous ways, including teaching students and adults to spot warning signs.

Sandy Hook Promise's "Know the Signs" programs teach what these warning signs are and when and how to tell a trusted adult. They are available at no-cost to schools and can be delivered in a single class period, SHS says in a statement.

Noting that the Oxford High School shooting suspect exhibited warning signs before the shooting, Barden, who is also CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund, said in the statement, "Like our own children, the children at Oxford High School were killed because nobody took action on the warning signs to stop the shooter.

"When schools implement programs to know what to look for and report the signs and schools have reporting processes in place, we're able to save lives," Barden's statement says.

Just last week, a high school in Indiana was able to prevent a shooting, and school officials credited Sandy Hook Promise's anonymous reporting system.

"To date, students and educators have anonymously reported more than 82,000 tips, resulting in more than 2,700 mental health interventions saving at least 257 students from suicide," the statement says.

Sandy Hook Promise estimates that as a result of these programs, more than 60 acts of violence with a weapon have been prevented, including seven planned school shootings.

"If we take action, we can save countless lives," said Barden. "School shootings are preventable when you know the signs and say something to a trusted adult. We must empower our children to help protect schools and communities. I urge students, parents, educators and everyone to promise to be part of the solution to preventing violence.

In the statement, Hockley, who is SHP's CEO, noted that Dec. 14 of this year comes two weeks after the Oxford High School shooting.

Courtesy Nicole Hockley Family.

"Our hearts go out to the Oxford High School community — especially the families and friends of the victims," she said in the statement "I know firsthand the unspeakable pain they're experiencing and must live with for the rest of their lives."

Hockley says she and Barden and the rest of SHP are more determined than ever to their efforts to prevent gun violence.

"Our hearts are broken; our spirit is not," said Hockley. "Those are the first words of our promise because they convey both our pain and commitment. We choose positive action and we ask you to join us because together we can end school shootings."

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