Students Nervously Return to School After Shooting

Gary Seri, general manager at the Stone River Grille, hangs a message written on a table cloth on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., in honor of the teachers who died along with students a day earlier when a gunman open fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Gary Seri, general manager at the Stone River Grille, hangs a message written on a table cloth on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., in honor of the teachers who died along with students a day earlier when a gunman open fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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By CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — By the time Richard Cantlupe received the news of the Connecticut school shooting that left 20 children dead, his students 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 Monday.

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

Cantlupe, whose school is about 50 miles north of Miami, and 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 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

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.

[PHOTOS: Deadly Connecticut School Shooting]

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.

"It's going to lead right into the controversy over gun control," he said.

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.

Northern Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school system in the Washington area with about 181,000 students, will provide additional police patrols and counselors.

"This is not in response to any specific threat but rather a police initiative to enhance safety and security around the schools and to help alleviate the understandably high levels of anxiety," Superintendent Jack Dale said Sunday.

Dennis Carlson, superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, said a mental health consultant will meet with school officials Monday, 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.

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"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.