MONROE, Conn. — For her son’s first day of school since last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Sarah Caron tried to make Thursday as normal as possible. She made his favorite pancakes, and she walked the second-grader to the top of the driveway for the school bus.
But it was harder than usual to say good-bye.
‘‘I hugged him a lot longer than normal, until he said, ‘Mommy, please,’ ’’ she said. ‘‘And then he got on the bus, and he was OK.’’
Her 7-year-old son, William, was among more than 400 students who escaped a gunman’s rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14. On Thursday, the returning students settled in at their old, familiar desks but in a different school in a different town.
Returning students, teachers, and administrators were met by a large police presence outside their new school in the neighboring town of Monroe, where a middle school that had been shuttered for nearly two years was overhauled and renamed after their old school.
Several officers guarded the entrance and checked IDs of parents dropping off children.
Monroe police Lieutenant Keith White said attendance was very good and the children were getting back to ‘‘business as usual.’’
‘‘A lot of them were happy to see their friends they hadn’t seen in a while,’’ he said.
William’s classroom had been across the hall from a first-grade room where children and teacher Victoria Soto died, and he had been nervous about going back to school, Caron said. But an open house Wednesday at the school eased some of his fears.
‘‘They didn’t talk about what happened at all,’’ she said. ‘‘They went in, met up with their teachers, had a little circle time and it was just about trying to get them back into school.’’
Most of the students arrived at the new school in Monroe by bus, something school officials had suggested to help them get back into a familiar routine.
Nick Phelps, who lives a few blocks from the original Sandy Hook school, said his first-grader and third-grader are excited about the new school because it means a longer bus ride to Monroe, which is about 7 miles away.
He was there when the bus brought them home Thursday afternoon.
‘‘I was never so excited to see my children and, certainly, to see my children get off the bus. There was a shared joy,’’ he said.
The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot and killed his mother inside their Newtown home before driving to the school.
He shot his way into the building and carried out the massacre before committing suicide as police arrived.
Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona representative who was wounded by a gunman in a mass shooting two years ago in Tucson, is expected to meet Friday with families of the victims of the school shooting.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s spokesman Steve Jensen said Thursday night a visit by Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, is ‘‘planned but not confirmed’’ for Friday afternoon.
He says the plans include Giffords meeting at a private home with families of the 20 children and six school officials killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month. He says Giffords may also make a second appearance.
Phone calls and emails to Giffords’ representatives haven’t been returned.
Giffords was wounded by a gunman in a mass shooting two years ago in Tucson, Ariz. Six people died in that assault.
On Thursday, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced the creation of an advisory commission that will review and recommend changes to state laws and policies on gun control, school safety measures, and mental health services in response to the Sandy Hook rampage.