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Union chief: Returning teachers felt rushed after Newtown

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Teachers felt they were rushed into returning to the classroom following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the president of the local teachers union said Friday.

Tom Kuroski, president of the Newtown Federation of Teachers, told members of a state commission that some teachers, still struggling with their own emotions, felt ill-prepared to deal with their returning students.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, center, signing new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines on April 4, 2013, in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The shooting, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead, occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, a Friday. Classes resumed for Newtown students, except those attending Sandy Hook, on Dec. 18, the following Tuesday. Sandy Hook students returned to classes on Jan. 3, 2013.

“If you look at what other school districts have done, that have endured similar tragedies, they’ve definitely given their teachers some time to get the training, the thorough training that they’re going to need in order to do the best job they can when they return,” said Kuroski, a science teacher. “A one-day workshop where our input wasn’t even listened to was not something that we thought was moving us in the right direction.”

Friday marked the 21st meeting of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to come up recommendations on gun safety, mental health and school security in wake of the massacre. Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, the commission’s chairman, said Friday that the 16-member panel is in the final stages of crafting its report, and he expects it may be finished in about six weeks.

Besides Kuroski, the panel heard Friday from Vincent Riccio, owner of Security Academy of Connecticut. It’s a business that specializes in active shooter training and security consulting for schools, businesses and government entities.

Kuroski described for panel members the “state of mass confusion” on the day of the shootings. He said he wasn’t included in the initial meetings with school administrators about how to proceed and a decision was made to hold a mental health training session that Sunday to prepare for students returning on that Monday. He said teachers felt they weren’t ready yet to return to work so soon afterward.

“I think the desire to move forward as quickly as possible, that people lost track of what was going on,” he said.

Ultimately, Kuroski said, Newtown teachers returned to work even though some didn’t feel ready emotionally.

“They felt as though they wouldn’t be there for their kids who they loved, and they were letting them down somehow,” Kuroski said. “They felt, all of us felt, like we needed to be there, even to the expense of our own mental health.”

Since then, however, Kuroski said mental health services for students and staff have been “well done.”

Also on Friday, Kuroski expressed concerns that federal grant funding to improve security in Newtown’s various schools didn’t arrive until this June. He said the changes in the Newtown public schools’ administration was likely to blame.

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