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The White Rabbit Speaks

Newtown’s collective consideration of what to do about providing the next permanent elementary school for the children of Sandy Hook over the 21 weeks since 12/14 has, in the context of the normal glacial pace of community planning, seemed like a sprint. A series of constituent meetings with victims’ families, survivors’ families, school faculty and staff, and residents produced a list of 10 guiding principles for creating a new school environment for the children of Sandy Hook. Each of the guidelines aligned with three basic themes: make it safe, make it smart, and make it compassionate. The exigencies of state funding for such a project, however, added one other theme: make it snappy.

The guiding principles that came out of the constituent meetings led the Sandy Hook School Building Task Force over the past five weeks to come close last Friday evening to formulating a final recommendation. The panel had, with the help of facilitators and a technical team, winnowed a list of 40 site possibilities for the project down to three options: renovating and redesigning the existing school; tearing it down and constructing a new school on the same site; or building a new school on a site nearby. But in a closed-door session prior to the public portion of the meeting, several teachers expressed strong objections to being asked to return to a property so fraught with trauma and stress for both the adults and children of the school. The impact of that 11th hour emotional plea not only forestalled a final recommendation, but at least temporarily placed some rejected options back on the table. It was as if someone had pulled the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland out of a hat to utter his famous line: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

The pause in the process may prove to be a complicating factor for funding the new Sandy Hook School. State lawmakers will have to see a funding plan for the project before their current session ends next month. But this sudden pause for reflection may ultimately help Newtown avoid a solution that succeeds in every respect — politically, economically, technically — and yet still fails the children of Sandy Hook, who have a special set of intangible emotionally and educational requirements. Meeting these needs is ultimately more important than meeting the deadlines of a legislative calendar.

We trust there is enough good will in Hartford to work with Newtown to overcome whatever financial and legal hurdles lie between the children of Sandy Hook and their new school. In deciding what to sacrifice, let us all acknowledge that it is important to come down on the side of safe, smart, and compassionate and not to worry so much about snappy.

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