Teachers to fill in during funeral

40 substitutes hired in Harford so staff can attend educator's services

Woman, son killed Sunday in Pa.

April 30, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County's North Bend Elementary School - reeling from the loss of a first-grade teacher who was shot to death in Pennsylvania on Sunday - has hired 40 substitute teachers to cover classes today so staff members can attend the funeral in Baynesville.

Services for Rita K. Hofler, who taught at North Bend Elementary near Jarrettsville, and her son, Kevin J. Gehring, are scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Loch Raven Boulevard.

"We will have two substitutes for each class," said North Bend Principal Steven R. Hardy. "This has been an unusual week, and the children will be seeing some new faces in the classroom. If a child is having a difficult time, we can provide one-on-one support."

He said the school will also have three or four additional guidance counselors available today. The school has one counselor of its own.

Hofler and her son were killed Sunday at the Shrewsbury Township, Pa., home of her estranged husband, Donald B. Hofler, a retired Loyola College professor who then attempted to kill himself with Valium, police said. He has been charged in the two slayings.

North Bend children have established a memorial in the glass showcase in the school lobby. It contains a Mickey Mouse poster, along with photos of Hofler working with schoolchildren in the classroom.

"She was an avid Disney fan," said Hardy. "She probably had every Disney video ever made."

There was a letter in the showcase to a child name Jake. It read: "I wish you a great summer vacation." It was signed, "Love, Mrs. Hofler."

A library table adjacent to the display case contained framed photos of Hofler and 17-year-old Gehring, her son by a previous marriage. The table was filled with flowers and cards.

Hardy said he has been sending letters home to parents each day. "We want to keep the lines of communication open in case there are any problems," he said.

In one letter, he wrote: "During stressful times, adults and children welcome structured activities. Organized routines and procedures almost create a sense of normalcy to someone not familiar with the tragic circumstances facing our school."

Accordingly, the teachers and staff were trying to resume a routine schedule "to divert the students' attention from a tragic act," Hardy said.

"We have field day today," Hardy said, speaking outside his office, where a line of third-graders were waiting to go outside. "There was some consideration of canceling it, but we decided that it would be better to go along with business as usual. We are trying to stay with the routine, to give the children as normal a school day as is possible."

He said field day was an all-day event in which each grade level would spend an hour on the playground participating in games such as volleyball, relay races and softball throws.

Donna L. Schuurman, the national director of the Dougy Center in Portland, Ore., which assists families with child grieving, said such a killing would be traumatic for kids. She said it is best for parents to tell their children the truth, without going into the gory details.

"If they don't get their questions answered," she said, "their fears and concerns don't go away."

She said parents tend not to talk to their children about such things. "They don't know how to explain it. But the kids will learn it from other kids or from the news. It is best they get the truth from somebody they trust," she said.

In preparation for the services today, Hardy said about 40 substitute teachers will take the places of the approximately 75 percent of the teachers who will attend the funeral.

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