Photo Courtesy: Associated Press
By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- New York schools were preparing Sunday for a return to classes following a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.
State Education Commissioner John King sent an e-mail to superintendents Friday advising school leaders to be alert for students or staff who might be struggling in the aftermath of the national tragedy.
"It is important in the coming days and weeks to listen to your students' concerns and reassure them when they ask questions, and encourage parents to do the same," King wrote. " I trust your judgment and wisdom to lead your staff and students through this difficult time."
A gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., Friday morning, including 20 children. The shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, also killed his mother and later killed himself.
Whether to make school counselors available specifically to address this issue will be a district-by-district decision, a state education department spokesman said.
Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, a statewide union, said teachers and school staff will be perceptive of students' needs, and any discussion of the event will be age-appropriate.
"There are guidance counselors and school psychologists, who are always vigilant, keeping an eye open for students who might look like they need to talk about it or like they've been affected by it, particularly in those areas of New York near the Connecticut border," he said.
Adele Bovard, superintendent of Webster Central School District in Monroe County, said school officials will work to create a nourishing environment.
"This tragedy touches us all at a very personal level," she said. "Our focus tomorrow will be to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of our school community and to provide support as we come back together."
The event has compelled school leaders in New York to review emergency preparedness plans and the State Police's reporting protocols for suspicious activity.
"While the Newtown, CT tragedy is believed to be an isolated incident and there is no credible information to indicate there is a threat to any school in New York State," King wrote to superintendents, "you are encouraged to speak to your staff to highlight the need to remain vigilant and cognizant of suspicious individuals, behavior or threats."
King wrote that the state police is working to keep lines of communication open with schools and is prepared to respond to any schools needing assistance.
Thomas Manko, superintendent of Mahopac Central School District in Putnam County, said there will be a police presence at the district's elementary schools this week, mainly to assure parents that their children are safe.
"Send your children to school," he said. "The best thing we can do is return to a normal schedule. There is a lot of anxiety, so we have these added measures for security this week. We want to put people's minds at ease."
Democrat and Chronicle Staff Writer Gary Craig contributed to this report.