Last Updated: Monday, May 22, 2000, 4:15 p.m.

Schools reeling after arrest of music teacher's husband

Palo Alto school district staff were just starting to deal with the death of their beloved colleague, Kristine Fitzhugh, before they learned that her husband had been arrested in the case.

At the same time, they have to put on a strong face and help their students deal with the tragedy.

As police announced the arrest of Kenneth Fitzhugh at a news conference late Friday afternoon, district officials received notification as well. Music teachers, the principals at the six Palo Alto schools where Fitzhugh taught and administrators were briefed by a Palo Alto police officer at the school district offices.

At that point, school staff began to prepare to help students and teachers deal with the news once school was back in session today.

This morning, all 10 of the district's psychologists were sent to the elementary schools where Fitzhugh had taught--Addison, Duveneck, El Carmelo, Escondido, Fairmeadow and Nixon--to comfort students affected by news of the arrest.

"We sent psychologists just to the schools where she taught, because she was only here for a short time," said Terry Naylor, a trained school psychologist who helped compile the district's crisis manual. "However, if a child is having a hard time at another school, a school psychologist will be available."

At the same time, a psychologist and a grief counselor from Palo Alto's Kara, a nonprofit center that offers grief counseling and support, met with the music staff to deal with their concerns.

The teachers have gone through a roller coaster of emotions the last few weeks, said Irv Rollins, assistant superintendent of students services.

"Two weeks ago, they went through the shock and horror of Kristine's death," Rollins said. "The events of last Friday opened the wounds again."

Although Fitzhugh only taught in Palo Alto schools for one year, she and her husband were well known in local music circles.

"The Fitzhughs were very active in the music community," Rollins said. "It could be said that they were leaders in providing music lessons to children in the area."

Rollins, who attended the counseling session for the music department, said the range of the emotions was similar to that of the couple's neighbors.

"Reactions ranged from 'It couldn't possibly be him,' to 'How could he do this?'" Rollins said.

As much as they want to get back to business as usual, Rollins said, teachers were ready for the reactions of their students.

"We want to get moving on teaching music," Rollins said. "But not at the expense of not listening to the children."

Rollins said a range of reactions is expected from students.

"Don't be surprised if students act up or if they do just the opposite," Rollins said.

Scott Bowers, principal of Fairmeadow, said students haven't reacted as much to the news of the arrest as they did when they first learned of Fitzhugh's death.

"The situation this weekend probably wasn't as shocking (for the children)," Bowers said. "They dealt with her death already."

Fitzhugh taught one class at Fairmeadow, Bowers said. She was on campus twice a week. Bowers said he made himself and psychologists available for students Monday, but no students had come to talk to them.

When the news of Fitzhugh's death first surfaced, Bowers said, he and a counselor visited the class she taught.

"We spent half an hour with the students talking through their feelings," Bowers said. "We prepared them for the range of emotions the students might have and to make sure they were sensitive to how other students may react."

Rollins said the teachers will encourage students to express their feelings. But he said teachers have been told not to push them but to wait until students feel comfortable talking.

"Listen if they have questions, comments or concerns," Rollins said. "Many of the questions, however, we can't respond to: Why did he do it? Did he really do it? Was he a bad man?"

The district has not finalized plans to memorialize Kristine Fitzhugh.

"Right now we're still reeling," Rollins said. "I think eventually the district will do something to honor Kristine."

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