NEWTOWN -- Sandy Hook Elementary School students and staff will return to classes after the holiday break at a new location that one school board member described as "filled with love.''
The other six Newtown schools will reopen for instruction on Jan. 2. Sandy Hook faculty will report that day to their new location at Chalk Hill School in Monroe to meet and reorganize, followed by an afternoon open house at which teachers, students and parents can reunite.
Chalk Hill has been made over to replicate Sandy Hook Elementary as it was before the shooting of Dec. 14, when 20 students and six educators at the school were killed, including Principal Dawn Hochsprung.
"In one room I visited (at Chalk Hill School), the children's pens and pencils are on the desks, their coats behind their chairs,'' said board member John Vouros, a retired Newtown teacher. "It's as if time stood still.''
Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson announced last week that based on teachers' requests, she opted for a soft opening at Chalk Hill on the first day after the holiday break, with instruction to resume on Jan. 3.
Robinson agreed that teachers need time alone to reassemble as a staff. They will be lead by former Principal Donna Page on a temporary basis. The teachers also wanted time to greet and assure children and parents that they are safe as school begins anew.
On Wednesday, Robinson said some Sandy Hook families have already walked through Chalk Hill School, and that has provided some "comfort'' that the school will be ready for instruction and be safe. Extra security will be on duty, Robinson said.
The timing of the shooting, just before the holiday break, left teachers without time to do much more than attend funerals for their students and staff, Robinson said.
"It's been overwhelming,'' she said. "They need a chance to be together and organize themselves.''
Once staff and students are back to their routine academic schedule, Robinson said, the healing can truly begin.
"Children are amazingly resilient, more than we are as adults,'' she said.
Robinson said she said she is proud of all the "heroes'' in her district who did that horrid Friday what they pledge to do every day -- take care of their students.
"The talk of heroism, this is not mythology,'' Robinson said. "They were doing what teachers would do to protect their children.''
In time, Robinson said, she hopes the school will erect a mural or a quilt of some kind as a memorial.
As for Sandy Hook Elementary School's future, Robinson said she expects a community conversation on that topic to begin shortly.
"That will be a town decision,'' she said.