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A Message to Members on the Sandy Hook Tragedy from Dennis Van Roekel

By Dennis Van Roekel
December 17, 2012

Dear Friends and Colleagues:


That was my very first thought when I learned of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary. Like you, I struggled to think past my shock and grief to even understand the depths of madness that caused the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday. Like you, my heart breaks for those who perished and those who survived. Like you, I thought of the parents – the grandparents, friends and families.

My next thought was for my own family—my grandson who started kindergarten this year and my granddaughter who is in the first grade. Like so many, I called my children and spoke to my grandchildren. The sound of their voices was a solace in the midst of so much grief, but it wouldn’t erase one horrible thought that has haunted me since I first learned the news about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

That thought? “It could have happened anywhere.”

The shooting was so random. Sadly, it is too easy to imagine this kind of horrific violence coming to any school or community in this country. It is a nightmare we have seen made real too many times in recent history.

The National Education Association family has offered prayers, hearts and resources to support those directly impacted by the tragedy. NEA's best crisis teams from our Health Information Network have been deployed. We have spread tools far and wide to assist the educators and parents who must help children cope with this tragedy. As planning moves forward on how to support those affected by the shooting at Sandy Hook, we will do what ever we can to help the Newtown community try to take its initial steps forward.

But how do we move forward? How do we ensure this tragedy is never repeated? How do we keep our children safe? How do we ensure our educators are recognized as heroes—not because they lay down their lives for their students but because they help equip their students to live productive lives.

In the days that have followed this tragedy, there are so many more questions than answers and I, like you, have struggled with the frustration of seeking solutions that don't seem readily available. I know we cannot allow ourselves to sink into the numbness that is a natural response to grief and trauma. But we cannot tolerate inaction. We would only serve to compound the tragedy if we allowed the grief and anger to simply channel itself into partisan debates and finger pointing.

Our children were left defenseless in the face of senseless violence with only the heroic efforts of the educators, custodians and other adults at Sandy Hook to standing—literally—between them and the line of fire. Now every adult must stand up and stand together to protect our students across the nation. We have a responsibility to come together and have the deeper conversation and shape a meaningful plan of action to ensure that no child, no school—nor the educators that serve them—ever suffers the trauma and tragedy of Sandy Hook.

Like so many others, I will travel home this week and spend time giving my grandchildren extra hugs and support. I will sit with my family and talk about how we make the changes necessary to ensure this never happens again and we will continue to pray and turn our thoughts to the families who whose loved ones will not be with them this holiday season. This is a moment for grieving and reflection, but a new year awaits us. We must return from our time with family with a renewed commitment to doing the hard work of rebuilding and setting a new course that ends this kind of nightmare for good.

Share your Condolences

Share your message of condolence with students, staff, teachers and the entire community of Newtown, CT.


NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on the Sandy Hook School Tragedy

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel offers his condolences to the Sandy Hook Elementary School community and calls for us to come together and shape a meaningful plan of action to ensure the safety of our children and their educators.