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December 17, 2012

Teachers prepare to return to classes after massacre

(Continued)

NEWTOWN, Conn. —

Teaching has never been a dangerous profession, but each mass shooting changes classrooms in subtle ways. Even before Friday's shooting, Sandy Hook adhered to the intensifying security rhythms of American education in the past two decades: More surveillance cameras. More threat codes issued over the loudspeaker. More fire drills. More "high alerts" and "code reds." Sandy Hook practiced lockdowns twice each year, once to prepare for a threat coming from outside the school and once again in case of a shooter inside the hallways.

The Sandy Hook principal, Dawn Hochsprung, had recently sent a letter to parents about increased security: "Every visitor will be required to ring the doorbell at the front entrance," she wrote.

First-grade teacher Vicki Soto had sent home her own class newsletter, addressed to "Dear Fantastic Families": "All volunteers will need to be fingerprinted before they can volunteer," she wrote.

None of it was enough to keep a gunman in a black vest from firing into the school's front entrance and barreling through the door.

"How can we put one foot in front of the other?" one Sandy Hook teacher wrote in an e-mail to a friend on Sunday before the staff meeting. "How can we feel safe?"

That has become a recurring question in the country's public schools. It has echoed since April 20, 1999, when two armed students killed 12 classmates and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Classes at that school were canceled for two weeks before teachers and students returned to a different building. Teachers had no books or materials. Academics all but ceased. The Columbine community muddled through the rest of the year in the same manner that teachers and students will attempt to endure in Newtown: Awash in grief, and searching for ways to cope.

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