A child sits on a Newtown bus leaving the new Sandy Hook Elementary School… (Jessica Hill / Associated…)
As Sandy Hook Elementary students walked off the bus to start classes for the first time since a gunman stormed their school, police in Monroe, Conn., said the youngsters seemed excited to start classes and to see their new school building -- located in a different town and refurbished to make them feel at home.
“A lot of them were happy to see their friends they hadn’t seen in a while," Monroe police Lt. Keith White told reporters Thursday afternoon. "They were excited about the new school.”
White said attendance on the first day back was “very good” and most kids arrived by bus. “Most of the buses were full and a lot of the classes were full," he said.
Police and school officials addressed questions from concerned parents at a packed meeting in the school's lecture hall, White said. He said he believed parents were satisfied with the answers they got, but White would not comment on the specific concerns raised.
Parents were also allowed to stay with their children for a "short time" if they wished, he said.
Three weeks after gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., this was a day for students to return to normality -- at least as much as was possible.
The former Chalk Hill School in Monroe -- about seven miles away from where the shooting took place -- was renamed Sandy Hook Elementary. Many students returned to their old desks and classroom decorations. Students were also able to retrieve backpacks and other personal items left behind during the Dec. 14 massacre.
"All of our desks are there," 9-year-old Ben Paley told CNN.
Despite the efforts to make the new school comfortable, signs of the tragedy were unavoidable. Therapy dogs were on campus and counselors were on hand for staff, parents and students.
“A lot of the kids have sat down and enjoyed a few moments with the dogs,” White said.
News reports said a large number of police greeted the students and teachers, while several officers guarded the school's entrance, checking IDs of parents who came to drop off their children. Echoing his comments from Wednesday, White said police are trying to strike a balance for the children and likely will reevaluate their staffing on a “week-to-week basis.”
“We don’t want them to think this is a police state,” he said. “We want them to know that this is a school and a school first. And that it is a place they are to come to learn, enjoy their friends and grow up."
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