NEWTOWN, Connecticut (CNN) — The return to school after the summer break is an annual milestone in every child’s life. But as the school buses pulled up to take more than 5,000 children back to class in Newtown, Connecticut, Tuesday, it was far from an ordinary day.
The returning students were greeted not only by their teachers but also the presence of more armed guards — and with them a solemn reminder of the tragedy that struck their town last year.
Mark and Jackie Barden are among those for whom the back-to-school ritual will be hardest.
While their children Natalie, 11, and James, 13, are returning to class as they have each year, their youngest child, 7-year-old Daniel, is not.
He was one of 20 young children killed during the horrific shooting spree inside Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. Six teachers were also killed by Adam Lanza, 20, who then took his own life.
“This will be our first time back to school without Daniel,” said his father, Mark.
The family’s pain is still raw — and it’s hard not to imagine how it would have been to see their boy going off to second grade. “It’s still day to day, and we have better days than others,” his mother said.
Sandy Hook Elementary is being torn down and its students will head Tuesday to Chalk Hill Elementary instead, the site to which they moved when classes resumed in January.
The heightened security they will find there will be replicated in schools across the district.
The school board is doing everything it can to put families at ease in the wake of last year’s shooting and the recent gun scare in Georgia.
Steps taken include better locks on doors, real-time monitoring systems and more armed guards at every school.
“It’s not a normal back-to-school but we’re trying to put the resources in place to make it as normal as possible,” said Debbie Leidlein, who chairs the education board.
“Parents will definitely see armed security at each school and there will be additional guards at multiple schools.”
The number of guards present will depend on the size of the school and number of students, she added.
More safety measures are expected to be put in place in Newtown schools over the course of the school year, but officials did not go into detail.
It’s not just Newtown where the security of children and their educators is at the forefront of people’s minds.
School districts across the country are adding more security guards, particularly to their elementary schools.
At least three states have also passed laws recently allowing teachers to be able to carry handguns on campus.
For the Bardens, the daily struggle to carry on family life without Daniel continues.
What they’d like to see are positive changes in the way people act, such as showing more kindness to others, to try to prevent others suffering a similar loss.
“We have to try to do the good work that he was supposed to do here,” said Mark. “We’re gonna try our best to do it for him.”