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We Are All Newtown

Some of you may have noticed that this blog has gone somewhat silent in the last couple of months.  It’s not that there haven’t been developments in education law worthy of comment.  But business as usual has been difficult to reestablish.  Instead, we seem to be establishing a “new normal”, much as I imagine schools in Colorado did in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting.  In the days and weeks since the Sandy Hook tragedy, I have tried to put into words some coherent view of this from the perspective of a school attorney.  A coherent view of it through any lens seems impossible.  Six weeks later, we look back at the abject shock and horror of Friday, December 14, 2012, the desperate search for basic facts amid the storm of misinformation and speculation, quickly followed by denial regarding the enormity of the loss of life, admiration for the courage of the educators who did their utmost to protect the innocent children in their charge, some of them making the ultimate sacrifice in service of children, and profound sorrow at the loss of each and every teacher hero and precious little angel.  We are thankful for the courage of the first responders and others in the law enforcement and medical fields who may still be able to shed light on why and how this happened once they have completed their full investigation.

Others more articulate than I have offered much-needed words of support and encouragement for the families of the victims, and so much work is being done on the issue of strengthening school safety, the debate over the proper role of gun control, and the need for adequate mental health services.

In this space, let me offer a few words on finding support and empathy for the educators involved.  So many of you have generously reached out to Newtown, directly and indirectly, to offer your support to try to ease their burden in the weeks and months ahead.  As you might with the friends and families of the victims lost in the tragedy, please don’t stop offering your support to the board members, educators, and administrators in Newtown.  Please remember that on the morning of December 14, 2012, when they went to work, none of them knew what the day had in store for them.  Nothing prepared them to handle the impossible situation in which they found themselves.  How do you prepare yourself to support teachers who have just had to carry out the school safety plan they all practiced and yet hoped they would never use?  What do you say to the teacher who just lost her entire class, the teacher who thought that she and her students were all going to die?  What do you say to the little children, not yet old enough to cross the street without holding your hand, who lost their friends and teachers?  How do you encourage a first year teacher whose career has started with this kind of trauma to go back into the classroom?  How do you support the surviving siblings dealing with the grief and loss of little brothers and sisters?  How do you prepare for the fact that mere days later, you are expected to open up a new school, prepare a new classroom, welcome your students back and try to make them feel safe?  How do you prepare to meet with 20 sets of parents whose children went to school one day filled with joy and excitement for the holiday season, and then never returned?  This has been an unspeakable horror for everyone touched by it.  There are no plans, no scripts, no protocols, and nothing that really helps heal the pain and grief left in the wake of an event like this.  Maybe, if you know some of them personally, when you first called to offer your support, the person on the other end of the line didn’t know how to ask for your help.  Keep offering.  Maybe there is some part of the burden you can shoulder for them.  Offer a shoulder to cry on.  Never forget.  We are all Newtown.