The sign post that used to mark the entrance to the Sandy Hook Elementary school
Hundreds of the children who escaped the harrowing attack on their elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, last month head back to classes on Thursday for the first time since a gunman killed 20 of their schoolmates and six staff members.
School officials are preparing for droves of anxious parents to join the fleet of buses carting children to a disused middle school in the neighbouring town of Monroe. Chalk Hill Middle School, closed about a year and half ago, has been hastily refurbished in the three weeks since the December 14 attack and renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School, reports Reuters.
With their children's safety foremost on parents' and officials' minds in the wake of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, the school has been outfitted with a new security system. Monroe Police Department officers will patrol the grounds, and all outside doorways and sidewalks will be under surveillance.
"I think right now we have to make this the safest school in America," Monroe Police Lieutenant Keith White said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Parents wishing to remain with their kids, ages 5 to 10 in kindergarten through grade 4, will be allowed to accompany them to their classrooms and afterwards may stay in the school's "lecture room" for as long as they like, according to a memo to parents on the school's website. Counselling will be available for students and parents at the new school, about 7 miles south of the scene of the shooting.
"I'm not sure I'm ready yet to totally let them go," Sandy Hook parent Sarah Swansiger said on CNN about her trepidation over the return to school.
When the students return around 9 a.m. Thursday, they will find all of the belongings they left behind when teachers and police evacuated them from Sandy Hook nearly three weeks ago after Adam Lanza burst through the school doors and opened fire.