There are some things about Newtown’s profound loss on 12/14 that the community would prefer to keep from prying eyes. As demolition experts worked to dismantle the old Sandy Hook School over the past week, the town tried to thwart those who wanted to witness the community’s private pain as this wounded place was stripped bare. But the vast stretches of opaque barriers and all the iron-clad nondisclosure requirements for those working on the site were not enough to block the unblinking gaze of the media’s video cameras hovering overhead in helicopters. There are too many things that people still want to see here that we wish could remain out of sight. Conversely, there are things unseen lingering from 12/14 that we wish people would pay closer attention to — now and for decades to come.
A crowd of mostly senior citizens filled seats normally occupied by teenagers in the lecture hall at Newtown High School last week. Turning the tables, they came to do the lecturing to an attentive Board of Finance sitting in front of the class. The subject was property taxes and the lesson was: They’re too high! The face-off seemed inevitable after tax bills went out early last summer, reflecting dramatically higher taxes on dramatically higher assessments for three types of properties, including over-55 condominiums.
On some days, it seems like the great tragedy Newtown suffered on 12/14 has created its own ever-expanding universe, surging out from a big bang amplified by cameras and microphones to places unknown. That big bang echoes back to us from time to time in nearly unintelligible ways that can strain our understanding. The designation of 12/14 as “Guns Save Lives Day” by a couple of gun rights organizations, for example, showed how distance and disdain can distort the message of respect, compassion, and kindness that has flowed out of our community for the past ten months. Fortunately, withering public criticism of this attempt to exploit what will be for most people in Newtown a day of quiet reflection convinced the sponsors of Guns Save Lives Day to push their observances back a day to December 15 to coincide with Bill of Rights Day.
If we did not already celebrate Christopher Columbus this weekend, we would have to come up with another holiday this second week of October to celebrate the astonishing spectacle of fall in New England. The seasons and weather in this particular pocket of the world are precious coins in the currency of change — and we’re not talking about spare change. In the space of a month, our landscape transforms itself from its summer look to its winter look with a flourish that continues to take our breath away, even after a lifetime of Connecticut Octobers. Perhaps the beauty of our fall days has given us a natural predilection for transformation. We find in Newtown these days ample cause for that belief.
The appeal by Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III of a ruling by the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) late last month to make public audio recordings of 911 calls made on 12/14 has delayed the release of the recordings to the Associated Press and other media. But it is only a matter of time before everyone will have access to the sounds coming across the phone lines from Sandy Hook School to the emergency dispatch center that morning. Unfortunately, Mr Sedensky’s argument that the release of this material would damage an investigation in which no arrests are anticipated is not likely to sway an appeals court any more than it did the commission.
The governor and local legislators set the stage this week for Newtown’s October 5 referendum, when local voters will be asked to authorize the expenditure of $49.25 million for the demolition of the existing Sandy Hook School and the design and construction of a new school on the same, but reconfigured, site off Riverside Road. Governor Dannel P. Malloy said that the State Bond Commission will approve the necessary financing, following through on promises state officials made in the wake of the 12/14 shootings at the Sandy Hook School to make Newtown whole financially in creating a new facility for more than 400 K–4 school children displaced by the tragedy.
A draft of Newtown’s latest version of its Plan of Conservation and Development is currently making the rounds of town agencies for critiques and comments before the Planning and Zoning Commission formally approves the planning document later this year. By state the town has to update this document at least once a decade. The principles and goals outlined in these town plans are usually exceedingly impressionistic — pretty pictures, really, of a town with open spaces and historic charm, diverse in its population and opportunities, and free of traffic congestion. It is a nice vision. Would that we could all go live in the town plan. But as a visionary of another sort, John Lennon, pointed out, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library has a problem. It has hired a new library director it hoped would lead one of Newtown’s most revered institutions into the future but who has fumbled badly in the first two months of his tenure. Instead of rallying the community around its library to meet the challenges and opportunities of the Information Age, he has failed to connect with his staff and has alienated many of the library’s most steadfast patrons. The board itself was drawn into the drama this week as it was scolded by townspeople, some of them former board members themselves, for making a mistake and not taking immediate steps to rectify it.
The connection between the beginning of a new school year and Labor Day is for most of us a calendar coincidence. Both milestones are worthy of fanfare and commemoration, but the link between the two seems largely a matter of timing. A report released last week by the New Haven-based public policy research group Connecticut Voices for Children suggests, however, that the state’s labor picture and our collective aspirations for schoolchildren are directly connected. Without better access to “high quality” public education leading to higher education and job training opportunities, current trends of soaring youth unemployment and wage disparity along racial and ethnic lines in the state will continue to degrade the entire state’s economic outlook, according to the report.
It is a paradox of human relations that the ones we hold closest to our hearts thrive when we loosen our grip. Given what we know about child development and education, it is easy for parents to see the sense of it. But Tuesday morning, as children headed out to the bus stops, this small “letting go” for the coming school year may have, for many, proved to be a most difficult moment of surrender. Newtown is no longer a town where people can find consolation by telling themselves that things always turn out for the best. That kind of naïveté requires a level of trust in fate that just doesn’t exist in this place anymore.