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Franklin students return to void after summer swimming accident

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Before students at Franklin Community High School met their teachers and went over what's expected for the school year, they remembered three classmates who weren't there.

Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne would have started their senior year at Franklin on Wednesday. They died in June trying to save their friend, Franklin junior Sarah McLevish, who was swept over the dam at the Big Blue River. McLevish, 16, has been hospitalized since the tragedy.

Two other Franklin students who also tried to help, Mark Nally and Trent Crabb, were unharmed.

Franklin principal Doug Harter knew the last time some of the students were at the high school was during a memorial service for the teens just hours after they were swept over the dam. As students returned Wednesday, Harter wanted the mood to be hopeful instead of somber. He had the staff dress in blue and white shirts, line the halls of the high school and greet students as they arrived.

When students entered their homeroom class a few minutes later, the high school observed a moment of silence for Moran, Chadbourne and McLevish and students watched a video that honored the three students. In the video, Crabb, Nally and McLevish's sister, Katie, along with Harter and Deb Brown-Nally, a Franklin administrator and Nally's mother, explained how the high school and community would move forward.

The high school will honor the teens at football games and at graduation. And two new ribbons with blue, white and yellow sections in remembrance of Moran and Chadbourne and in support of McLevish were hung at Franklin's main and athletic entrances by the teens' families.

In the video, Harter also explained that it's time for the blue and white ribbons people have tied around the city of Franklin to come down.

Students need to remember the friends and classmates they lost and who are still recovering, but they must also focus on the future.

"We want to acknowledge (the tragedy). But we also want to teach them that part of the healing process is being able to move on," Harter said.

Franklin will also take time to remember and honor the students at football games this fall and at graduation at the end of the school year. Guidance counselors were ready to speak with any students who were overwhelmed by being back at school without Moran, Chadbourne and McLevish, Harter said.

Across the city, Franklin grounds crews and street workers will start taking down blue and yellow ribbons, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said. Residents with the ribbons on their mailboxes and houses can remove them when they're ready, but McGuinness and Harter both said removing the ribbons around town and replacing them with the two that are now at the high school is an important part of moving forward.

"I don't want to send the message that we're wanting to forget about the event," McGuinness said. "But I also think it's probably part of the healing and recovery process for the community."

This is the first time Franklin school officials can remember multiple students being killed and critically injured at once, and they know that this is also the first time some students are dealing with the death of one or more friends. Weeks before school resumed, Harter and school officials talked about how to start school as normally as possible while also acknowledging what had happened.

Students typically start each school year in their homeroom class, reviewing expectations, standards and other details they need to know about the upcoming school year. School officials decided to start this school year with the video remembering Moran, Chadbourne and McLevish before talking about the year ahead.

The video also explained that the school will continue to remember the three teens at specific times throughout the school year so that students can focus on learning while they're in class.

"We can't do this every week," Harter said. "That's why we're picking some key points, and then we'll continue to move on."

Chadbourne and Moran, who were both football players, will be recognized at Franklin's first home football game on Aug. 29, and again at the football senior night on Oct. 17. A memorial bench for the boys will also be dedicated near the players' locker room, Harter said.

At graduation, Chadbourne's and Moran's families will be given the ribbons that they helped hang in the high school on Wednesday, and the families will also receive mortar boards, Harter said.

School officials routinely talk with McLevish's family about her condition and recovery, and will continue to be ready to do anything they can to help her, Harter said.

"We are going to be open to any kind of adjustments, based on changing circumstances," he said.

Residents in and around Franklin responded almost immediately after the five teens went over the dam, setting up fundraisers and making donations to help Moran's and Chadbourne's families pay for funeral costs, and to help McLevish's family pay for medical expenses. Nearly $60,000 has been given to the Franklin Family Fund, and about half of that has been spent on the families, executive director of finance Jeff Mercer said.

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