Ex-Newtown officials defend handling of shooter’s education

October 18, 2018 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Former educators in the town where 20 children and six adults were shot to death in an elementary school submitted a sharply worded rebuttal Thursday to a state report that was critical of how the shooter’s educational and mental health problems were handled.

The two former Newtown officials handed state senators the 22-page response and asked that it be attached to the 2014 report by the state child advocate’s office on the upbringing and education of Adam Lanza.

The 20-year-old Lanza, who grew up in Newtown and attended local schools, killed the 26 victims and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, after having fatally shot his mother in their Newtown home.

In the rebuttal, former Newtown pupil services director Michael Regan and former special education supervisor Jan Calabro cited efforts by the school system to help Lanza with his education and mental health problems while he attended town schools. They also called his mother, Nancy Lanza, a “tremendous obstacle” to those efforts.

“We are taken aback by the report’s negative depiction of the Newtown Public Schools, in particular the aspersions cast upon the special education program when our experience indicated otherwise,” they wrote. “Newtown has a long history of educational excellence and we were proud of the accomplishments made during our tenure.”

They called the child advocate’s report misleading and questioned the objectivity of those who wrote and contributed to it. The former officials even quoted Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in saying how if you repeatedly tell a lie, people will eventually believe it.

The report by the office of Child Advocate Sarah Eagan concluded Lanza’s autism spectrum disorder and other psychiatric problems did not cause or lead directly to the massacre. It found that his “severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems” when combined with a preoccupation with violence, and access to deadly weapons, “proved a recipe for mass murder.”

The report said Lanza’s parents and educators contributed to his social isolation by accommodating — and not confronting — his troubles.

It said recommendations from Yale psychologists that he be medicated and undergo rigorous treatment as a child for anxiety and other conditions were rejected by his mother, who eventually took him out of school. It questioned whether school officials were reluctant to intervene because Lanza’s parents were white and affluent.

The report also said that early indications of Lanza’s preoccupation with violence, including graphic writings, were largely unaddressed by the schools, and that his education plan did not appropriately address his disabilities.

The former educators said they could refute 16 of the 19 findings in the report about Lanza’s educational services by using information in the report itself.

Eagan was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Assistant Child Advocate Faith Vos Winkel defended the 114-page report on Lanza but said her office will review the former educators’ rebuttal.

“It’s disturbing that they’re challenging the veracity of our report,” Vos Winkel said. “This was widely vetted. It was vetted with the school system. ... We tried to be as transparent and straightforward as we could with this report. We had no vested interest in this other than helping others understand what they could be doing differently.”

The rebuttal was submitted Thursday to Republican state Sens. Kevin Witkos and Henri Martin. They gave it to the child advocate’s office and said they looked forward to discussing the concerns that were raised.