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Rumble of war remote from classrooms

Pasco schools report the atmosphere remains calm, even routine, compared with the tension of Sept. 11, 2001.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 21, 2003

The bombardments and air raids of Iraq seemed more like distant thunder than an approaching storm for Pasco County's schools Thursday.

What a difference from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., when principals dispatched counselors and interrupted classes with announcements to help soothe the anxieties of students.

"9/11 was really upsetting, so we dealt with the issues and had a team of counselors come in and deal with students," Wesley Chapel High School principal Andrew Frelick said. "The war is pretty remote right now."

Frelick's approach was to "keep things as normal as we can," a philosophy shared with Ray Bonti, principal of Land O'Lakes High School.

Bonti reported normal attendance and an absence of the all-consuming hunger for news updates that dominated Sept. 11.

"We're all making sure teachers are focusing on their usual curriculum," Bonti said. "It's business as usual."

As of midday, not one parent of the school's 2,000 students called to inquire about pulling children from classes, Bonti said.

Parents of children in the lower grades appeared a bit more apprehensive, mindful of the greater impressionability of their elementary school pupils.

Amy Pinsky, guidance counselor at Quail Hollow Elementary, spent part of the day communicating with parents about how to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

"Parents talk to me and ask how they should handle it," Pinsky said as kids boarded buses after school Thursday.

They've settled on a strategy at Chasco Elementary School in Port Richey. As early as today, the school's guidance counselor could talk to children via the in-school television system.

The main message for kids: Ask your parents. Special attention is reserved for children with family members in the military.

"We didn't have any children who seemed overly alarmed today," principal John Mann said Thursday.

"We want the teachers to be honest but not alarmist."

Still, administrators will stay tuned to the news in case the war heats up or retaliation hits American shores.

Said Bonti: "As events unfold, we'll consider discussing timely topics."

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