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The Tragedy in Newtown, CT

Sadly, this tragedy reminds us of the need to do whatever it takes to ensure schools are safe sanctuaries for all students and staff, and provide environments focused on teaching and learning.
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In this season that usually fills children and adults of all ages with joy and hope for the New Year, the entire AFT family is shaken and deeply saddened by the senseless, unspeakable loss of so many lives this past Friday in Newtown, Conn. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the 20 children and seven adults who were killed, as well as to Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Newtown Public School District, and the entire community of Newtown and its surrounding areas.

In moments of great tragedy, so many perform acts of overwhelming heroism. On Friday, first responders did what they always do: move quickly to ensure safety and prevent further harm. The school principal, teachers and staff did what educators instinctively do: protect their students. Two of the staff who lost their lives -- school psychologist Mary Sherlach and teacher Victoria Soto -- are members of our AFT family. The school principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was a member of our sister union, the American Federation of School Administrators. Also killed was behavioral therapist Rachel Davino, educational assistant Anne Marie Murphy and building substitute Lauren Rousseau. (The paraprofessionals are represented by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.) Lead teacher and AFT member Natalie Hammond was shot but survived. In addition, a number of the nurses at the Danbury Hospital who treated victims wounded during the shooting are members of our AFT family.

Since Friday, I have been in constant touch, along with AFT Secretary Treasurer Lorretta Johnson and several members of the AFT staff, with our AFT Connecticut family, including Newtown Federation of Teachers President Tom Kuroski, Newtown Federation of Custodians and Maintenance President Jeffrey Fell, Newtown Federation of Education Personnel President Joanne Di Donato and, of course, AFT Connecticut President Melodie Peters. Their entire focus has been on those in need in Newtown -- the students, teachers and staff affected by this tragedy, and the entire community. All of us who talked to them have been touched by their pain, but also by their caring and strength. Lorretta, Fran and I have pledged to commit resources and staff to provide support to the students, teachers, administrators, their families and everyone in this community as they struggle to find healing and comfort.

AFT Connecticut is working with the three Newtown locals to coordinate grief counseling and support services, and AFT and UFT staff are joining in those efforts.

I want to thank Michael Mulgrew for his immediate offer of assistance and for making available staff from the UFT to assist in our crisis management efforts. I also want to thank Dennis Van Roekel and the National Education Association for doing the same. Staff from the UFT and the NEA will join AFT staff in Connecticut.

The AFT CT has set up a page for messages to our sisters and brothers in Newtown and in Connecticut - click here to send your condolences and messages of support.

Yesterday, I joined the AFT staff who went to Newtown to help plan for the return of children and educators to classrooms when school opens this week. The team also will participate, along with Newtown school administrators and staff, in developing a long-range response to provide students and school employees with ongoing support. AFT Connecticut and the leaders of the Newtown locals have been working closely with Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, to develop guidelines for talking with students about the shootings and to coordinate services for children.

There is much work to be done, and it's hard in the midst of such sadness and grief to see the road to recovery. That road for students, educators and the community will be a long one, but I am confident that the AFT family will do what our union does best: come together to support one another.

Sadly, this tragedy reminds us of the need to do whatever it takes to ensure schools are safe sanctuaries for all students and staff, and provide environments focused on teaching and learning. We cannot prevent every senseless act of violence, but we must stand together to press for greater gun safety and for stopping gun violence, as well as for making mental healthcare accessible and acceptable in all our communities.

In solidarity.

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