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On Education: Sandy Hook is a lesson told too often

December 27, 2012|By Megan O'Neil

There are families in Newtown, Conn. who are enduring the holidays without their children. There are empty spots on couches, unwrapped presents and those who weep at the sight of them.

The Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School — which took the lives of 20 first-grade students and six staff members — means that this season is forever marred by loss for the New England community.

The trauma has reverberated across the country. We gathered in parks and churches to memorialize the victims. We asked whether we would act with the same selfless courage demonstrated by staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary. We've questioned school safety, mental health services, gun control and personal responsibility.

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Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said that district officials were reviewing emergency protocol, including lockdown procedures that would be enacted in the case of a campus shooting.

I lived through a minor school crisis. On March 31, 1997, my classmates and I arrived at Rosemont Middle School only to be ushered out onto the athletic fields where we would spend much of the day waiting for law enforcement officials to diffuse a small explosive planted on a classroom door.

Three weeks later, a similar object was found on the playground at Dunsmore Elementary School. No one was injured — the devices were later determined to be largely harmless — and three eighth-grade boys were arrested for the hoax.

But the collective anxiety was real. I remember our lanky principal, Jerry Watson, striding around like a wind-up toy. Parents, beside themselves, rushed to retrieve their children. It was a very small taste of something more serious, a reminder that not even lovely, school-oriented communities are immune.

It's a lesson that our nation has reviewed too many times.

The Newtown shooting defied so many of the existing safeguards and assumptions we have about school-place violence. Sandy Hook Elementary School had just implemented rigorous safety protocols in which no one was allowed to enter the building without first being identified. Nancy Lanza was apparently an educated and engaged mom. The weapons used were legally obtained and 20-year-old Adam Lanza trained to handle them since childhood.

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