'This is an emotional time': Westport schools address violence at the U.S. Capitol with students

Photo of Katrina Koerting
TOPSHOT - Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

TOPSHOT - Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

ALEX EDELMAN / AFP via Getty Images

WESTPORT — The nation watched as a mob of President Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, which caused destruction and left one woman dead.

As officials condemned the actions that evening and night, Superintendent Thomas Scarice focused on how the district could help the students.

“This is an emotional time and there will be a range of strong feelings from anger to sadness and fear,” Scarice said an email to families and staff Wednesday night. “There will also be a great deal of confusion on the part of our students. ... We will aim to validate our students’ feelings and questions, while doing our best to work through some very complex issues.”

He said the school team was ready to meet students Thursday morning and “serve them in the most professional manner.” Faculty and staff were given resources to support them and each building principal met with them Thursday.

“Highest among our priorities is to assure each child that they are safe in the school environment,” Scarice said.

Each education level will use an age-appropriate approach, ranging from a more responsive tactic at the lowest levels to looking at Wednesday’s events in social studies classes at the middle and high school levels, he said.

The elementary level won’t have group discussions about the incident, but teachers were prepared to address individual students as needed.

“We cannot make assumptions about how parents prefer to approach such topics with our youngest learners,” Scarice said in Wednesday’s email. “As a result, we will be responsive in nature. If conversations and questions persist, and an elementary teacher needs to briefly address the class, parents will be informed so that they can appropriately follow up with their child.”

Middle school classes addressed the events in social studies classes, viewing it mainly through a civics lens and focusing on the process to certify an election. Scarice said students probably heard a lot about this on the news and in social media and might be unfamiliar with it.

“Additionally, the natural inquisitive nature of early adolescence typically sparks dialogue about current events,” he said. “Our social studies teachers are being provided with tools and resources to facilitate discussions while providing context for our students to comprehend the events of the day, and the implications as we move forward.”

Support staff were also prepared to offer additional intervention for any middle school student who needed it.

High school teachers facilitated discussions in social studies classes with students generating the questions.

“Our high school students are close to voting age,” Scarice said. “Among the relevant topics for classroom discussions are the process of elections, the constitutional role of Congress in presidential elections, and the idea that the events that transpired today are more about our democracy than politics.”

Additional, individual support was provided during lunch waves and throughout the day as well.

“In my experience, these are the times when the humanity of our work intersects with our professional responsibilities,” he said. “We are an organization composed of people and we bring all of our strengths and imperfections to our work every day. We will not be perfect, but we will answer the call and bring our professional best to serve your child tomorrow and beyond.”

Though Scarice wasn’t without criticism.

“I watched the events at the Capitol today with utter disbelief and abject sadness,” he said. “By now I’m sure you’ve read countless comments and reflections about the lawlessness and violent attack on our democracy incited by the reckless behaviors and comments of some of our elected officials, including our sitting president. All I can add to this commentary is my condemnation.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe also spoke out against what happened in Washington, D.C., targeting Trump, though not by name.

“As the chief elected officer of Westport, to watch the behavior and the blatant abrogation of responsibility by the chief elected officer of the United States was discouraging and disgusting,” he said in a statement. “I am embarrassed for our country. Thankfully, as a community, our local elected officials regularly participate in a civil and respectful process that gives me hope and confidence that our democracy can and will survive.”

kkoerting@newstimes.com