The organizers of The Great Newtown Reunion, which took place on July 27 on the grounds of the Fairfield Hills Campus, spent months putting together a first-ever event that had at its heart, paradoxically, tradition. Getting together — the object of every reunion — has become an automatic impulse for Newtowners since the tragic massacre at the Sandy Hook School on December 14. As we saw at the event Saturday, it has turned out to be an impulse strong enough to drive people back to town from the far corners of the country and beyond. They came to honor a tradition among the people of this community: live here your whole life, or move in then move on — either way, this place will always be your hometown.
The interstate signs for Exit 10 say “Newtown, Sandy Hook,” two now-famous names that will catch the attention of even the most road-addled thru-traveler. The signs may as well say, “This is the place!” Throw the utilitarian inducements of the Mobil gas station and The Blue Colony Diner into the proffer, and it is no surprise that Newtown now has a steady stream of strangers pulling off the highway, for gas, food, and curiosity. The volunteers at the Sandy Hook firehouse at Riverside Road and Dickinson Drive, and the residents of Crestwood Drive in Sandy Hook are by now used to seeing vehicles with out-of-state plates trying to make their way to the closest vantage points at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The empty building has been fenced off and behind barriers for months, but people keep coming; they want to see the school.
Town crews were out early this week painting the speed bumps on Queen Street school-bus yellow, to raise the visibility of the raised pavement at five spots along the length of the popular thru-road between the town’s commercial center and Wasserman Way. The street is distinctly less popular these days. The “traffic calming devices” in the road are not having a calming effect on the frustration levels of drivers, who must alternately accelerate and brake along the short unimpeded interstices as they prepare to clear one bump after another. As lovely as the scenery is on this half-mile Queen Street steeplechase, many motorists without a lot of time on their hands are taking their vehicles and their chances on the traffic- and hazard-intense South Main Street from the center of town to points south and east.
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.