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Newtown Debates Fate of Sandy Hook Elementary School

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The debate over what is to become of Sandy Hook Elementary School began in earnest over the weekend.

As the suburban community of Newtown, Connecticut, begins taking steps toward recovery in the aftermath of the horrifying mass shooting that killed 20 first graders and six staff members at the school, one topic of conversation has turned toward the buildings themselves. What to do with them?

Residents packed into the auditorium of Newtown High School on Sunday, almost a month to the day after the December 14 massacre. “Opinions varied sharply about whether to reopen the school, renovate it, turn it into a shrine or a park, or raze it,” The New York Times reported.

And while the debate over what to do with the school is unavoidable, dragging it out even amicably can have a damaging effect on the child survivors already traumatized by the shooting.

“The debate itself is something that, although it may be necessary, can make this experience more traumatic for these kids,” says Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“At a practical level, we hope the parents of these kids are shielding them as much as they can from this discourse. But parents are so afraid of screwing up that they drag these issues out because they don’t want to do the wrong thing. And in some cases that process only makes things worse.”

Plus: Should Sandy Hook Ever Re-Open?

At the weekend meeting, well-meaning parents whose children still attend the school were understandably divided on the matter.

"I cannot ask my son or any of the people at the school to ever walk back into that building, and he has asked to never go back," said Stephanie Carson, whose son was in the school during the shooting, according to the Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Audra Barth, the mother of a third grader and a first grader at Sandy Hook. “My children have had everything taken away from them,” she said. “They need their school.”

Fran Bresson, a retired police officer who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in the 1950s, also wants the school to reopen, but with the spaces where the shooting occurred demolished or repurposed.

"To tear it down completely would be like saying to evil, 'You've won,'" the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Plus: Back to School After Sandy Hook

The problem, say experts, is that there is no panacea for a group of children who have survived a great trauma. There is no one-size-fits-all answer that works for them, as well future generations of children who have yet to attend the school. 

“In general given the nature of what happened there, something like a reconfiguration of the classrooms--of the school--into something else, into a memorial, is probably psychologically the way to go,” Klapow tells Parenting.com “But it’s almost like no matter what you do, you ain’t gonna get it right for everybody.”

What do you think should be done with the school? Leave a comment.

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