Sandy Hook Shooting Survivors Should Be in School, Need 'Routine,' Psychologist Says

PHOTO: A school bus drives, Dec. 18, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
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Connecticut school officials' plan to get survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting back together at a new school is the right decision, says a youth trauma psychologist.

Authorities announced Monday that the Newtown, Conn., elementary school where 26 people, including 20 children, were gunned down, will be closed "indefinitely," but Chalk Hill School in nearby Monroe, Conn., could be ready to host Sandy Hook students and staff within days. No official word yet on when classes for those students will resume.

"It's a good idea that kids go back to school as soon as possible and normalize and get accustomed to a routine," said psychologist Susan Lipkins. "You want to make it as familiar and easy as possible so the transition is as smooth as possible for teachers, faculty and the children."

Most children do not understand death, Lipkins said, they understand that their parents and teachers are upset and draw on those emotions. She believes it would be best to have Newtown students return to classes, especially before the Christmas break, because it will help them adapt to the new situation.

"If they didn't have school this week that really would give the children too much time to get accustomed to being at home ... and it would increase their likelihood of developing phobias," she said.

Lipkins also agreed with the decision to have Sandy Hook remain closed because going back to the scene of the massacre would have been "too traumatic" for everyone.

"I think that the scene is too extreme and that it would be very hard to erase the memories," Lipkins said. "It's really good for everybody to have their normal routine but to have those physical manifestations would make it probably more stressful."

Police say Adam Lanza, 20, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, spraying bullets on students and faculty. Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.

CLICK HERE for complete coverage of the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

Immediately after the shooting, Newtown officials began to consult therapists from Yale University's Child Study Center to help plan the next steps for the children.

Schools were closed in Newtown Monday as the tight-knit community said goodbye to 6-year-olds Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, who was buried in a New York Giants jersey of his favorite player, Victor Cruz. Other schools in the area, except for Sandy Hook, were reopened today.

Moving trucks were seen outside Sandy Hook Elementary Monday morning, as school officials moved furniture and supplies to Chalk Hill School.

Lt. Brian H. McCauley of the Monroe Police Department said Monday all the staff members at the alternate site will be from the Newtown school district, but Monroe may assist in security. Counselors will also be available at all schools. The goal was to make students feel safe, but not interfere with learning or go overboard, McCauley said.

Formerly a junior high school, Chalk Hill has not hosted students for at least a year. It is currently being used for Monroe's EMS and recreational departments, but the building is also outfitted with a day care center.

Monroe Fire Marshall William Davin said Monday that nearly 100 volunteers and contractors had been working since early Monday morning to the make necessary repairs to Chalk Hill, including checking fire alarms, outfitting toilets for youngsters and "preparing the classrooms to make the school feel as normal as possible."

Davin said the school could be ready "in a matter of days," but the Board of Education has not set a date for resumption of classes.

Columbine, Virginia Tech's Norris Hall Reopened After Mass Shootings

"We definitely, at the very least, want to give the children the opportunity to see their new school and become as comfortable as they possibly can in a new area," Debbie Leidlein of the Newtown Board of Education told ABC News affiliate WABC-TV.

While the next chapter for Sandy Hook will be in a new facility, other schools that have experienced the pain and grief of a mass shooting chose to reopen.

It took nearly four months for Columbine High School to reopen after seniors Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, went on a deadly shooting rampage that killed 12 of their fellow classmates and a teacher, and wounded 23 others, before committing suicide.

After surviving what was then the most fatal school shooting in recent history, Littleton, Colo., students cheered "We are Columbine" over and over at a "Take Back the School" rally as they walked through the doors of Columbine High School on Aug. 17, 1999, to kick off a new school year.

At Virginia Tech, where senior Seung-Hui Cho went on a shooting spree on April 16, 2007, inside Norris Hall, there was much discussion over what to do with the three-story engineering building where 30 people were slain. Suggestions ranged from fully reopening all classrooms to turning it into a memorial to demolishing it entirely.

In the end, university officials at first decided to close the west wing classrooms where the shootings took place forever. But then the building went through extensive renovations and the wing was gradually reopened as the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics and the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention offices and laboratories.

Whether the victims of a mass school shooting are in elementary school, high school or college, Lipkins said every person reacts differently to trauma. The Columbine students, for example, might have had flashbacks and increased anxiety after returning to the same hallways where their classmates had been gunned down, she said.

"All students are at risk for all kinds of symptoms of stress, probably not sleeping, stomachaches, headaches," she said. "This will go on for a little while, and it's normal."

As for the Sandy Hook students, Lipkins said some might have anxiety and stress reactions, including being too frightened to leave their parents' side, while others might want to be out on the playground. Either way, it's important for adults, whom they turn to for emotional guidance, to get them back into a routine.

"It will be difficult," Lipkins said. "But the sooner they do it, the easier it will be."

How to Help Sandy Hook Victims' Families and Communities

ABC's Anthony Castellano, Josh Haskell and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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