NEW YORK: Students at a US elementary school where a gunman massacred 26 children and teachers last month return to classes Thursday, at an alternative campus described by police as "the safest school in America."
Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has been closed since the December 14 tragedy in which a 20-year-old local man fatally shot 20 small children and six staff members before committing suicide.
Survivors were finally to resume their academic year in the nearby town of Monroe, where a disused middle school about seven miles (11 kilometers) away has been converted and renamed from its original Chalk Hill to Sandy Hook.
Newtown schools superintendent Janet Robinson told a televised press conference near the school on Wednesday that some 80 people worked at transforming the building into "a very cheerful elementary school."
"It has been renamed Sandy Hook School, so we can carry on our traditions," she said.
"The children are coming in. They're so excited to see the teachers.
"The students coming in completes a circle."
Police would not say what specific safety and security measures are being taken at Sandy Hook in Monroe, but Robinson said the school "feels extremely secure."
Monroe police Lieutenant Keith White said security at the school will be evaluated regularly, and police will adjust accordingly. The goal is to provide a safe learning environment, he said.
"I think right now it has to be the safest school in America," White told a press conference.
He said extra security measures include "stopping every vehicle that comes onto the campus."
To ease the transition for traumatized witnesses of the massacre, teachers have brought with them furniture and belongings from the old school, Robinson said.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy dropped by Wednesday to visit the school and speak to staff. Parents and students also have been allowed to tour the new school ahead of the first day of classes.
"Everything seemed to go well this morning,"
The new Sandy Hook school is housed in a two-story building, and situated along a winding, wooded road next to a new middle school and an elementary school.
Families were invited to inspect the campus on Wednesday and acting principal Donna Page, who replaces the slain school head Dawn Hochsprung, said "the facility is safe, secure and fully operational."
Page said parents would be allowed to stay in the school when it opens for classes, to provide reassurance to their children.
"We understand many parents may need to be near their children on their first day(s) of school and you will be welcome. That being said, we encourage students to take the bus to school in order to help them return to familiar routines as soon as possible," she wrote.
In Newtown meanwhile, the scene of the massacre, Police Chief Michael Kehoe said patrols have increased in the weeks after the shooting, and officers have been stationed at every school as the town struggles to get back to "normal."
Among those slain in the tragedy were Sandy Hook's principal, a beloved guidance counselor and teachers who lost their lives trying to protect their young students.
The shootings provoked a major national debate on gun control and a promise from President Barack Obama to back a bill outlawing military-type weapons.
The shooter, Adam Lanza, was laid to rest over the weekend after his father, a tax executive, retrieved his body from the authorities last week, a family spokesman said.
Lanza's mother, whom he shot at their home just ahead of the school massacre, was buried in New Hampshire last month. (AFP)