NEWTOWN, Conn. – The children who escaped last month's shootings at a Connecticut elementary school will be returning to classes in a neighboring town in a refurbished school now named after their old one, school officials said Wednesday.
Newtown Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson announced that the students' new school, the former Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, has been renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School. She said the Sandy Hook staff made that decision.
"That's who they are. They're the Sandy Hook family," Robinson said after a news conference at a park in Monroe a few miles (kilometers) from the school, which will open for classes Thursday morning. An open house was held for parents and students on Wednesday.
Robinson added that renaming the Chalk Hill school will allow staff and students to keep "their identity and a comfort level."
The school where the shootings occurred remains closed and guarded by police. Newtown officials haven't decided yet on the building's future.
It's been nearly three weeks since the Dec. 14 massacre, when gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 students and six educators. Lanza also killed his mother at the home they shared in Newtown before the school shootings, which ended when Lanza fatally shot himself as police arrived.
Police haven't released any details about a motive.
Numerous police officers on Wednesday guarded the outside of the Monroe school, which is about 7 miles from the old school, and told reporters to stay away.
Asked about the level of security at the new school, Monroe police Lt. Keith White said, "I think right now it has to be the safest school in America."
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe declined to answer questions Wednesday about the investigation.
Teachers attended staff meetings at the new school on Wednesday morning and were visited by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy before the open house, White said.
Robinson said Chalk Hill School has been transformed into a "cheerful" place for the surviving students to resume normal school routines. She said mental health counselors continue to be available for anyone who needs them.
"They're so excited to see the teachers," Robinson said about the open house attendees.
Several signs welcoming the Sandy Hook students to their new school were posted along the road leading to the school in a rural, mostly residential neighborhood. One said "Welcome Sandy Hook Elementary Kids," while a similar sign added "You are in our prayers."
Donna Page, a retired Sandy Hook principal, will lead the new school.
Teams of workers, many of them volunteers, prepared the Chalk Hill school with fresh paint and new furniture and even raised bathroom floors so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets. The students' desks, backpacks and other belongings that were left behind following the shooting were taken to the new school to make them feel at home.
Counselors say it's important for children to get back to a normal routine and for teachers and parents to offer sensitive reassurances.
When classes start, Robinson said teachers will try to make it as normal a school day as possible for the children.
"We want to get back to teaching and learning," she said. "We will obviously take time out from the academics for any conversations that need to take place, and there will be a lot of support there. All in all, we want the kids to reconnect with their friends and classroom teachers, and I think that's going to be the healthiest thing."