An offense against humanity of the scope and emotional impact of the 12/14 massacre at the Sandy Hook School raises a succession of questions that never seems to end. None of the answers are easy to come by, even the empirical ones that the law enforcement community is seeking with its protracted investigation. Loss, grief, and the uncertain and sometimes tragic nature of the human condition inevitably raise eternal questions that lie at the heart of faith and life’s purpose. Out of this daunting mix of imponderables, however, a question has arisen that Newtown is perfectly suited to answer: What is a school?
“Sandy Hook” was written in for June 14 in the daily planners of countless news editors and producers: a six-month reminder. Time for reflection. Time to take stock. Time to raise the profile of Newtown again. But here in Newtown, people wonder what it would be like to have to be reminded of the tragic events of that December day — to have to pencil something in on a calendar as if the date could escape our memory for a day, or even for an hour.
There is a continuity of experience in this town from that December day that rises above the accumulating forgetfulness in a world of distractions. Innumerable connections made and sealed person to person, family to family, even stranger to stranger have built a bridge, leading the community to this date and to every date on every calendar page we can now imagine for our future. All of it is experience borne of that day; all of it impelled by compassion and hope; all of it embodied in the numeric shorthand we have adopted: 12/14...
In an impressive display of conscience and consensus, Connecticut’s Legislature passed legislation on the final day of its session Wednesday that will put photographs and other media that lay bare the graphic and gruesome details of the 12/14 massacre at Sandy Hook School beyond the reach of those employing the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to secure their release. With only four dissenters in both chambers, the state Senate and House voted to exempt these materials not only in the Sandy Hook case, but for all homicides in the state. Governor Dannel P. Malloy has promised to sign the bill. The legislation also calls for the creation of a task force to recommend ways to reconcile the competing interests of victim privacy and the public’s right to know, acknowledging the emerging public view that privacy rights need more protection. One poll published this week showed nearly seven in ten voters opposing the release of crime scene photos from the Sandy Hook School.
Of the three “R’s” of budget politics, once again the reading and ‘riting about the subject comes to a close, and all that it left to consider is the ‘rithmetic at the polls, when the third iteration of a 2013-2014 school budget comes up for a vote. Perhaps the most compelling number now up for consideration is not the $71 million bottom line, or the 3.93 percent increase over current spending levels, or the 33.32 mill tax rate; it is the two-thirds of Newtown’s electorate who do not vote in budget referendums and who effectively have no say on the matter of school spending or taxation...
In the course of the contentious debate leading up to the state’s enactment of tough new gun laws earlier this year, gun advocates argued that gun violence is a mental health problem, not a gun control problem. State lawmakers, with the support and encouragement of Governor Dannel P. Malloy, concluded that it wasn’t really an either/or proposition and passed legislation that called for both gun control and mental health initiatives. On Monday, the legislature’s Committee on Children addressed the second half of that equation and announced a proposal aimed at making it easier for families to secure mental health services for children.
If it is true, as writer, historian, and philosopher Will Durant once observed, that education is the transmission of civilization, we should brace ourselves for a period of lurching and grinding gears. It is troubling enough that the Newtown school district is once again having problems winning local support for its annual budget. (This week’s referendum underlined a recurring suspicion in town that at least some of Newtown’s investment in education is a waste of money.) But then there is Hartford, where the legislature’s Appropriations Committee gnawed through the financial underpinnings of its own educational reform initiative, which one year ago this week inspired legislative leaders, education officials, and the governor to bask in a glow of pride, bipartisanship, and self-congratulation as they heralded “a new beginning” for educational excellence in Connecticut’s schools.
Newtown’s collective consideration of what to do about providing the next permanent elementary school for the children of Sandy Hook over the 21 weeks since 12/14 has, in the context of the normal glacial pace of community planning, seemed like a sprint. A series of constituent meetings with victims’ families, survivors’ families, school faculty and staff, and residents produced a list of 10 guiding principles for creating a new school environment for the children of Sandy Hook. Each of the guidelines aligned with three basic themes: make it safe, make it smart, and make it compassionate. The exigencies of state funding for such a project, however, added one other theme: make it snappy.
It is not uncommon for people working in a newspaper office to hear themselves described by others as having their fingers on the pulse of the town. But from where we sit, the business of community assessment and diagnosis is not as simple as that. Newtown’s lifeblood flows from myriad hearts beating, at times, in cacophonous syncopation. And rarely is it more difficult to discern what the heart of the town is telling us than in the wake of a failed budget referendum.
If 2013 runs true to form, another 2,000-plus Connecticut residents will be diagnosed with Lyme disease, adding their names to tens of thousands of other state residents who have contracted the disease over the past decade.
And Lyme disease is but one offering on the expanding menu of tickborne maladies afflicting the local population. Babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever were joined just last week by a new tickborne disease so novel that the Yale researchers who discovered it in southern Connecticut have yet to give it a common name. So, with the advent of another tick season, public health officials are gearing up to meet the threat head-on.
Newtown has been the object of countless acts of generosity since 12/14. Whether through sympathy or a sense of kinship — that we’re all in this difficult and dangerous world together — perfect strangers have declared themselves citizens of the emotional territory of Newtown and have done their part to support through donations, both cash and in-kind, Newtown’s future recovery. Next Tuesday, Newtown’s actual citizens will have to declare themselves on the matter of the town’s future by voting on a budget. As we know, the sum of a town is not simply what one finds on the bottom line of a ledger, but in the accounts of expenses and revenues for 2013-2014 there is much that defines the town’s inclination toward its own future.