HARTFORD, Conn. – A mural inside Newtown High School that paid tribute to victims of the Sandy Hook shooting rampage was created as a form of art therapy.
But within two years, the administration became worried that despite its intentions, the painting of a dreamcatcher was upsetting some students. To address those concerns, painter Lindsay Fuori at the start of this school year colored over the words "In loving memory" and "12-14-12," a reference to the date of the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at the elementary school.
Then in October, the Newtown superintendent had her 10-foot-by-15-foot mural covered with plasterboard.
The decision led to an online student petition rallying support for uncovering the painting, sparked debate on how to acknowledge the tragedy and provided a glimpse of the challenges facing administrators in a school system that remains in recovery three years after the shooting.
Superintendent Joseph Erardi Jr. wrote in a note to families that he knew covering the mural would be controversial, but he had to act.
"During the first quarter of the present school year, ongoing student recovery, through the lens of the learner and multiple families, remained problematic at a heightened level because of the mural," Erardi wrote Nov. 20.
Fuori, now a student at Boston University, said the blank, white wall that now greets students at the top of a stairwell might cause more problems than the painting.
"A lot of students feel like they're being told to forget, and that's not a healthy feeling, either," she said in an interview. "It's a very difficult situation, but I don't think this is the solution."
Fuori, 19, painted the mural in late 2013 as part of a senior-year project at Newtown High School that also included research on the uses of art therapy and the creation of a guide to local therapy resources. The mural depicts 26 green beads, footprints and clouds along with the dreamcatcher, a theme she thought fitting because intrusive dreams and memories are common effects of post-traumatic stress.
The leadership of the high school and the school district changed after project was completed, and Fuori said she understood that Erardi in 2014 committed to removing all references to the tragedy from Newtown schools. Fuori thought the painting would be allowed to stay after she covered up the elements that administrators described as triggers for some students. Despite the compromise, she learned weeks later from a friend that the mural had been covered.
"There will always be reminders of the tragedy, but there won't always be people around who care or understand," Fuori said. "Now is the time to address any distressing emotions, so when students move on to work or college after graduation and find themselves overwhelmed by feelings, they know how to cope."
Fuori said she rejected an offer last month to paint a new mural that would be subject to the administration's approval.