SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 17, 2013

Danvers High gets $50K to help recover from slaying

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Danvers High will get a federal grant of nearly $50,000 to help students and staff cope with the aftermath of the slaying of math teacher Colleen Ritzer, allegedly by one of her students.

The school plans to put measures in place to make the school safer and to help heal those affected by the tragedy.

”In light of this senseless tragedy, we want to provide support to the students, school staff and community of Danvers who were impacted by the loss of this young teacher,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a prepared statement. “These grants will help provide the necessary services needed to restore the learning environment.”

”We are very appreciative,” Superintendent Lisa Dana said, adding that the money will allow the school to call on specialists who have expertise or unique skills in dealing with incidents like this to work with students and staff.

The money comes from a School Emergency Response to Violence, or SERV, grant, available to schools that have experienced a traumatic event and need resources to re-establish a safe learning environment.

Dana said the administration and the high school are working with school counselors and additional local resources.

”We will be pulling a plan together for the second part of the year,” she said.

Ritzer, 24, of Andover, was attacked after school in a school bathroom on Oct. 22. Her body was found in a wooded area outside. A 14-year-old freshman, Philip Chism, has been charged with her murder. Danvers High was designated a crime scene and closed for two days after the incident.

Chism pleaded not guilty in Salem Superior Court to charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery. A status hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 30.

The federal grant money will help the school provide extra security for after-school hours, with support staff rather than police, Dana said. The money will also pay for substitute teachers to cover for staff members who are still in distress, so they can seek help.

The grant also will allow the school library to open after hours, so teachers can give extra help to students in a more public space near the office. Dana said this is in addition to other ways students are provided extra help after school.

Finally, the grant will help provide additional mental-health services to students, staff and others who are still grieving.

”I think it’s absolutely a wonderful thing, and we are grateful to the Department of Education for helping us out,” said School Committee Chairman Eric Crane.

Crane said it was good to know these kinds of resources are available when such a tragic incident happens to a school community, and he was appreciative of Congressman John Tierney for helping to secure the grant.

Tierney issued a statement saying the funds would “support the ongoing efforts to return a sense of normalcy and safety to Danvers High School, and above all, restore the commitment to learning to which Ms. Ritzer was so devoted.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.