Forest Park school principals met Monday with staff to review safety procedures for the district as students and teachers returned to school for the first day after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, CT.

Throughout the district on Friday teachers and principals made the choice to let parents explain the shootings to their own children. Betsy Ross Principal William Milnamow sent an email to parents Friday afternoon to tell them the situation.

“While it is inappropriate for the staff to discuss this with our students at this time, it is inevitable that your children will hear this news or see the sad pictures as the day unfolded,” Milnamow wrote to parents. “I caution you to be aware of what they are seeing and hearing and I urge you to assure them of your love and their safety,” he continued.

The letter attached a link to the American Psychological Association page called “Helping children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting.”

“I took a look at the resources they sent and I said, this is exactly right,” said Betsy Ross School mother Jamie Connelly on Saturday. Connelly is a social worker.

Monday the district posted links to other resources for children and parents on the Forest Park School District 91 website.

Superintendent Lou Cavallo issued a statement saying that the schools would be discussing current safety plans in upcoming months “to ensure we are doing every reasonable and rational thing possible to ensure the safety of our children.”

Cavallo said in his letter that the fear of a school shooting happening anywhere – including our [Forest Park] schools” – was a natural response, and a fear he shared.

“The thing that angers me most…. is that we, as a nation, seem to have accepted that violence in the schools is a possibility,” Cavallo wrote. “I am outraged that it has come to this.”

“Please hold your children tight and keep the community of Newtown in your thoughts and prayers,” continued Cavallo.

In the aftermath: advice from the American Psychological Association

Talk with your child: Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to helping them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them.

Find times when they are most likely to talk: riding in the car, before dinner, or at bedtime.

Start the conversation: let them know you’re interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.

Listen to their thoughts and point of view: don’t interrupt — allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.

Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs: acknowledge that it is OK to disagree.

Remind them you are there for them: to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.

Keep home a safe place: During times of crisis, remember your children may come home seeking the safe feeling they typically have being there. Plan a night where everyone participates in a favorite family activity.

Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety: After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months.

Take “news breaks”: Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the Internet, television or newspapers. Limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears.

Take care of yourself: so you can take care of your children. Be a model for your children on how to manage traumatic events. Keep regular schedules for activities, such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.


Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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