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For Parents, Sending Kids Back to School Was Never This Hard

For one local parent, the horros of school violence are a not-so-distant memory.

Sending children off to school on Monday morning — just three days after the brutal school shooting in Newtown — was difficult for parents, including those in East Hampton Town.

Most parents who spoke to East Hampton Patch expressed some underlying fears about sending their children off to school with the memories still fresh of Friday's brutal attack that left 20 young schoolchildren and 6 faculty dead across the sound in Connecticut.

One parent in Montauk knows all too well what it is like to get a call about a violent attack at school. In 2009, PJ Delia and her family lived in UpState New York, when a gunmen broke into the South Orangetown Middle School, where her then 12-year-old son Jake was a student. According to The New York Daily News, a former New York City police officer ran into the school waving a gun, angry that his son had contracted the swine flu.

"We were getting reports from all over about the SWAT team and gunfire," Delia recalled. "It's indescribable, the visceral frustration at being kept a mile from the school so you can't even see anything. News was being spread around on text and email."

The school superintendent tackled the man in his office, just as police officials stormed the barricade office, The News reported. "Later, there was the nearly hysterical relief of seeing one's child whole and healthy. In those situations, until you see and touch your kid, there is this fear creeping around your consciousness no matter how matter times you are told everything's okay," Delia said, adding that the wait was long because police searched the schools and kept it on lockdown.

Jake was put on "lockdown in the girls locker room with a bunch of girls he knew," she said. The teachers, she remembered, did a great job of keeping the students calm — as did her son, comforting his friends. He is now a sophomore at East Hampton High School.

"I know how truly blessed we are and I cannot stop crying for the parents of Sandy Hook," Delia said. "It's the unfaceable dread that is there while you wait. Those parents have to actually face that horror that we got to push back away from our conscious."

As parents dropped their children off at school or put them on the bus on Monday morning, it was with heavy hearts.

Jenn Wood said she was emotional sending her young children back to Amagansett School. They are 6 — the age of most of the students killed in Newtown — and 4.

"Hugging my two sons and kissing them as I dropped them off at school today was incredibly difficult," she said. "As a parent your job is to keep your children safe and protected at all times. You never think such a horrible act will happen to such innocent kids. We need to come together to make sure our children are safe in school. I'm leaving their safety in the hands of the school faculty when all you want to do is keep them under your wing so no one can hurt them."

However, Wood said she does feel comfortable with the security already in place at the Amagansett School, where her children are in first grade and pre-kindergarten.

She hasn't spoken to her sons about what happened across the sound. "I know they would have questions that I couldnt answer and I also didnt want them to feel unsafe and scared to go to school. They are far too young to really understand," she said, adding that she did receive a call from school officials, who said they had resources for any student who needs to talk about what happened.

Springs School parent Mary McPartland said she was "stressed and anxious" sending her middle school-aged son off to classes on Monday morning, despite several emails from district administrators. "I was still very very on edge about today. We understand the school is on their toes, extra efforts to ensure security, student wellbeing, allay parent fears, and link closely with law enforcement. But still .... No school out here is fully immune."

She said she would like to see security "beefed up substantially." She noted certain vulnerabilities. "I think we are very, very vulnerable. Access is way too easy for anyone who truly wanted to cause a problem."

Springs School principal Eric Casale said the district is reviewing his security measurements, as are many districts throughout the town. A meeting was held on Monday afternoon for parents to share concerns about how to talk to their children about the tragedy in Newtown.

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