January 18, 2018 10:59:27 AM
In his 41 years at Caledonia Elementary School, Principal Roger Hill has had his share of days when he dreaded going to school.
During those four decades, the first day of school after the tragic death of a student has always been a tough day for students, teachers, staff and administration.
Today is one of those days.
"It never gets any easier," Hill said Wednesday.
Today is the first day students at the elementary school will be in class since the deaths of two of their classmates -- 9-year-old Dakota Burnett and 10-year-old Raymond Karr Jr.
The cousins were killed after a Sunday morning car crash that also claimed the life of their grandmother, Dorothy Bunton. Their grandfather, James Bunton, the driver of the pickup that collided with a tractor-trailer on Highway 45, is still receiving treatment and is listed in critical, but stable condition.
All four occupants of the pickup were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, according to a Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman.
"You remember every one of these tragedies," Hill said. "But this one ... it's really tough because we lost two of our students. It's very sad."
Hill said there would be no school-wide assembly to address the death of the two students, a decision he said was made in deference to the age of the students.
"If this were the high school or even the middle school, we would probably have an assembly to talk to the students about what happened," Hill said. "But at the elementary school, we have children as young as 4 years old (in pre-kindergarten). A lot of the children won't even know what happened and, especially for the younger students, exposing them to this is probably not the best way to approach this."
Instead, Hill said the school will approach the subject more intimately, mostly in the classrooms of the deceased students.
"We'll be careful in how we deal with this, which based on experience is the best way to go," Hill said. "We'll have our counselors available to talk to the students and we'll be watching them carefully."
Lowndes County School District Lynn Wright said the district will also make other counselors available in addition to the school's counselors and those at nearby Caledonia Middle and Caledonia High schools.
"We have counselors at our other schools that will be available, if needed," Wright said. "The district wants to support the children and the school in every way we can."
The return to school comes four days after the tragedy. Students were out of school Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day while classes Tuesday and Wednesday were suspended because of the weather.
"That's probably a blessing," Hill said. "It's given us some time separation from when the accident happened. That can help a lot."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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