MONROE, Conn. -- On a tour yesterday of his daughter's new school, Vinny Alvarez took a moment to thank her third-grade teacher, who protected the class from a rampaging gunman by locking her classroom door and keeping the children in a corner.
Alvarez was one of many Sandy Hook Elementary School parents expressing gratitude to the teachers during an open house at the school in the neighboring town of Monroe, where their children are resuming classes Thursday for the first time since the Dec. 14 shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead.
Alvarez said each student received a gift box with a toy inside. He expressed thanks to the teacher, Courtney Martin, who kept her door locked until it was safe to leave the building. "Everybody there thanked her in their own way," he said.
Newtown Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson announced that the Sandy Hook staff decided that the new school, the former Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, would be renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"That's who they are. They're the Sandy Hook family," Robinson said after a news conference at a park in Monroe a few miles from the school.
She said renaming the Chalk Hill school will allow staff and students to keep "their identity and a comfort level." The school where the shootings occurred remains closed and guarded by police.
The building's future is undecided.
Numerous police officers guarded the outside of the Monroe school, which is about 7 miles from the old school, and told reporters to stay away.
"I think right now it has to be the safest school in America," police Lt. Keith White said. Teachers attended staff meetings at the new school on Wednesday morning and were visited by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy before the open house, White said.
Robinson said Chalk Hill School has been transformed into a "cheerful" place for the surviving students to resume normal school routines. She said mental health counselors continue to be available for anyone who needs them.
During the open house on Wednesday, Alvarez said his 8-year-old daughter also got to pick out a stuffed animal to take home from the school library.
"I'm not worried about her going back," he said of his daughter, Cynthia. "The fear kind of kicks back in a little bit, but we're very excited for her and we got to see many, many kids today. The atmosphere was very cheerful."