Newtown massacre felt in Sonoma County schools
Published: Monday, December 17, 2012 at 6:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 7:11 a.m.
The shadow of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre lay in varying degrees across Sonoma County classrooms on Monday but touched most heavily on parents and school staff, local educators said.
"I think it's hitting adults much harder than our kids," said Patricia McCaffrey, principal of Hidden Valley Elementary School in Santa Rosa.
"All of them think of their own children, think of the children they're responsible for," she said.
Signs of the tragedy's ripples were evident at school districts around the county. Flags were lowered to half-staff, following President Barack Obama's order. More counselors were made available. Moments of silence were held at some schools.
At the Sebastopol Charter School, parents met in the morning to discuss security and safety procedures, and several volunteered for the emergency committee, Executive Director Susan Olson said.
But, probably because the Waldorf school encourages a media-free education, many students seemed unaware of the slaughter in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and seven adults Friday before committing suicide.
"We expected there to be a fair amount of conversation and there has not been," Olson said.
At Monroe Elementary School in Santa Rosa, about 20 parents attended an after-school meeting that also focused on emergency drills. Prior to that, the day passed with little mention of the tragedy, Principal Rachel Valenzuela said.
"The emphasis has been on keeping it a really normal, routine day," Valenzuela said.
Elsewhere, some school officials chose to directly address Friday's tragedy, or at least some of the practical questions it raised.
Santa Rosa High School Principal Brad Coscarelli gave a morning broadcast address to students to note the school's safety measures and reassure students of their effectiveness, said junior Henry Burch, 16.
Teachers also raised the topic in class. Discussions frequently revolved around the "shockwaves" produced by the actions of a lone gunman, and the sad place that such events occupy in the public consciousness, Burch said.
"It really just shocks the nation, even though you know it's going to happen again," he said.
At other schools, some students said they wished that more overt attention had been paid to what happened.
"There wasn't really any kind of a recognition of it, which was kind of shocking," said Ja'narrick James, 15, an Analy High School sophomore. "I think there probably should have been some type of brief recognition to acknowledge it."
Even among students, though, the shooting came up only rarely, he said.
"I think it's probably just because people are scared that it's a reality," James said. "It's not like it happened in a movie or something. That could happen anywhere. It could happen at our school."
At Windsor Middle School, a moment of silence was held after the Pledge of Allegiance, "to honor those who lost their lives last Friday," Principal Lisa Saxon said. Staff members and teachers kept in close contact with each other through the day to offer mutual support.
"Knowing what happened, that god-awful reality, is just very hard to accept," Saxon said.
Especially at primary schools, officials decided to proceed cautiously, remaining alert and prepared to respond to student concerns but not otherwise mentioning the schoolhouse killings.
"Since we're a K-8 school, we have to be really sensitive how we handle it," said Rebekah Rocha, assistant principal at Cali Calmécac Language Academy in Windsor, where the staff met Sunday to discuss how they would proceed on Monday.
"We wanted to protect the kids who didn't know about it," Rocha said.
For Amy Grant, a teacher's aide at Liberty Primary School in Petaluma, the shooting rampage has struck particularly close. Her family moved from Newtown to Petaluma six years ago, and her three children attended Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"We're visualizing the different places they talked about, knowing that our kids were there, they had classes in those classrooms," Grant said.
Though she knew none of the victims, Grant remains friends with some Sandy Hook school staff, with whom she's spoken since the shooting. They are, she said, "overwhelmed and in shock."
While shaken by the events that have gripped the nation, Grant is also keenly aware that more could have been slain.
Her children, she said, "also did the same (emergency) drills that they did, and I think that's what saved the lives of a lot of those students and staff."
The heroics of Sandy Hook music teacher Maryrose Kristopik have been widely reported; she barricaded her students in a cupboard, comforting them while the gunman, Adam Lanza, reportedly screamed to be let in.
"I remember my daughter coming home and saying, 'We had a drill today and this is what we did.' And she was with that same music teacher. She did those same drills," Grant said.
Staff at the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District are discussing ways to raise funds to support the Sandy Hook victims' families, d Rancho Cotate High School Principal Robert Steffen said.
"People want to do something. You kind of feel empty if you don't do something," he said.
In the longer run, the Newtown massacre may lead to safety changes, Sonoma County Office of Education Superintendent Steve Herrington said. The 1999 Columbine High School shootings, for example, prompted new rules covering emergency drills, door locks and school visitors.
"I anticipate that there will be a re-evaluation of school safety procedures and protocols," he said.
For now, Sandy Hook's horrors continue to stun.
"School's such a sacred place in the community; it makes me feel violated," said Valenzuela, at Monroe Elementary. "Whenever something like that occurs, you just realize you can't always anticipate, you can plan as best as you can -- gosh, I just don't even know what to say."
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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