Attendance levels at New Haven area schools appeared to be normal on Monday, but across the country parents and children expressed increased fear about going to school, and a spate of bomb threats and other incidents locked down several schools.
In perhaps the most nerve-wracking incident, police searched for a reported suspicious person near a Ridgefield, Conn., elementary school, resulting in a lockdown for part of the day. Ridgefield is about 15 miles southwest of Newtown, the site of Friday's massacre. Momaguin Elementary School in East Haven also was briefly shut down after the sound of fireworks were mistaken for gunshots.
In another incident in Pennsylvania, a student's umbrella seen on surveillance video was mistaken for a gun, resulting in a 20-minute lockdown. Bomb threats at schools also received extra attention on Monday, with reports in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, the Toronto area, and Abilene and San Antonio in Texas. At least two of the incidents resulted
"I sent my 8-year-old to school because I wanted him to have normalcy," Melissa Federico wrote on Facebook. "I have not spoken to him about this tragedy and he still doesn't know anything about it. My concern this whole day has been is he safe? And it took all my strength to not go pick him up as soon as I heard about the lockdowns at East Haven and Ridgefield and Redding."
But in the New Haven area things were quieter, and students attended school at normal rates. New Haven, Milford, Ansonia, Hamden and Madison public schools all reported absentee levels that were at or close to the norm for flu season. Districts elsewhere in the country reported similar numbers.
"I think we've done a nice job putting safety measures in our schools and actively communicating with our parents." said Christopher Melillo, assistant superintendent at Hamden Schools, which had 96 percent attendance. That was slightly above the 95 percent rate on recent Mondays.
At New Haven Public Schools, an average of 8 percent of students were absent, versus about 7 percent so far this school year.
"We really tried to reassure parents that we are doing everything we can to ensure that schools are safe for the students, that we have counseling available if they need it and that we have resources available for parents," said Abbe Smith, the district's director of communications, adding that increased security measures would be continued through the rest of the week. "The one thing that we're really stressing is the importance of human vigilance, for people to just keep their eyes open, be alert, report anything unusual that they see."
John and Michelle Rutledge's third-grade daughter at Pomperaug Elementary School in Southbury, Conn., Maggie, told them about the police that were in the hallways throughout the school day Monday.
"Knowing that police were there made me feel better," John Rutledge said.
Steve Johnson, who has two teenagers in Milford Public Schools, said the superintendent's phone messages and e-mails outlining the steps being taken in terms to be sensitive to the needs of children were appreciated and needed. Neither his son nor his daughter expressed concern about their safety, and Johnson said he thinks they understood the need to stay on schedule.
But many other children and their parents fought through strong misgivings to attend school on Monday.
"I didn't want to send them," Sierra-Marie Gerfao, a fellow at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, wrote on Facebook. "I realize it's not necessarily rational. Someone pointed out that today is, in some way, safer than Thursday because now everyone's attention is on safety. But psychologically, it is still so hard."
Suzanne Mancuso of Lake Peekskill, N.Y., said via Facebook that as more and more tragedies occur in the country, her fears of sending her daughter to school continue to rise. She described herself as a generally "nervous mother," but said Friday's shooting caused her extra apprehension this morning putting her daughter on the bus.
"Everybody always has these things in the back of their head, and after this it's all you can think about," Mancuso said.
On Monday morning, Rachel Stietzel watched with "anxiety," she said, as three of her children -- a kindergartener, a third-grader and a fifth-grader at Pomperaug Elementary School -- boarded their school bus. She was at the school afterward to oversee her kids' after-school sports activities.
"You think when they get on that school bus, they're in good hands," Stietzel said.
Many teens tweeted that they were nervous to attend school now, and others relayed the fears of their younger siblings.
"My 7-year-old sister was scared to go to school today, begging me to take her back home with me," Mikki Abbatiello wrote on Twitter.
"My brothers brought cellphones to feel safe today in ELEMENTARY school," Kenzie Shaw wrote.
Jim Stadt sent his daughter, 11, to Derby Middle School Monday. She's on a sports team and had to go to practice, so she could play in an upcoming game. She also has never missed a day a school, he said. Ultimately, "She readily went to school and was well-prepared," Stadt said.
Richard Borer, whose son is a sixth-grader at Carrigan Middle School in West Haven, said his son was unusually uneasy about going.
"Luckily he was not exposed to a lot of (discussion of Newtown) during the day, then when he got home his mom and I spoke to him about it, he had questions about how and why, could this happen to us, too?" Borer said. "We said this is very rare. His response was: 'They probably said that in Newtown last week, too.' "
Adam Poulisse contributed to this report