Shoreline School District’s departing superintendent, Steve Rosenthal, received a warm sendoff Friday in Tomales’ William Tell House restaurant and bar.

By grim coincidence, it was the same day a mentally ill young man shot to death 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and that tragedy was on the minds of many of Rosenthal’s well-wishers.

Friday in Tomales, Steve Rosenthal received an etched-glass plaque honoring him for his 14 years as superintendent of Shoreline Unified School District. The guests included representatives of the district and the county schools office, as well as friends from the community.

School officials who arrived early at the party (from left): Jill Manning-Sartori, Shoreline School District trustee; Jane Realon, principal at Tomales Elementary and Bodega Bay schools; Tim Kehoe, president of Shoreline’s board of trustees; Jane Healy, trustee; Susan Skipp, Shoreline business manager; Penny Valentine, special education director for the county office of education; Steve Rosenthal, retiring superintendent; Adam Jennings, Tomales High’s principal; Nancy Neu, Shoreline’s incoming interim superintendent; and Matt Nagle, principal of West Marin-Inverness schools. Other trustees showed up later.

Shoreline, like school districts everywhere, has periodically had its problems, but compared with too many schools elsewhere, the district was almost idyllic during Rosenthal’s tenure. As it happened, the superintendent’s farewell party unfortunately coincided with not one but two attacks on school children.

In China’s Henan Province, a mentally ill man stabbed 22 grammar-school students as they arrived for classes. Most private citizens in China cannot own guns, so the attacker could only knife the children. All of them survived although seven had to be hospitalized. “No motive was given for the stabbings, which echo a string of similar assaults against [Chinese] schoolchildren in 2010 that killed nearly 20 and wounded more than 50 people,” the Huffington Post reported.

And you’ll recall that here in the Bay Area a former student killed seven people in a shooting rampage at a private Christian university in Oakland last April 2. A month earlier on Feb. 27, a gun-toting 17 year old killed two students and wounded two others in a Chardon, Ohio, school cafeteria.

In a 2008 shooting spree, a former student killed five students and wounded 18 others at Northern Illinois University, and just 10 months before those murders, a 23-year-old gunman killed 32 people in a Virginia Tech dormitory before killing himself. Even an Amish School in Pennsylvania was the scene of a mass shooting in 2006 when a 32-year-old man killed five girls and then himself.

Probably the most-infamous massacre at a US school in recent years occurred in April 1999 when two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher, as well as wounded 26 others, at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado.

A Newton Bee photo seen round the world shows students being kept in a conga line while being evacuated from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Although he was also carrying two semi-automatic handguns, the killer, Adam Lanza, 20, shot his victims with an M-4 assault rifle designed for urban combat. Under current US law, civilians can buy such weapons, and apparently Lanza’s mother owned at least five. She also taught Adam how to fire them, supposedly to give him a sense of responsibility. Instead he took three of her guns and murdered her before heading to the school.

Among those Lanza shot to death at Sandy Hook School was principal Dawn Hochsprung, who heroically tried to overpower him. On Sunday a Republican congressman from Texas, Louie Gohmert, wildly claimed that what really went wrong was that Hochsprung didn’t have her own assault rifle to shoot it out with Lanza inside the school. Gohmert told Fox News he could imagine Lanza going down in a hail of Hochsprung’s gunfire: “She takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”

Speaking more rationally, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), announced on Sunday that she will introduce legislation to restore the federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004.

The Associated Press on Monday reported: “Gun control was a hot topic in the early 1990s, when Congress enacted a 10-year ban on assault weapons. But since that ban expired in 2004, few Americans have wanted stricter laws, and politicians say they don’t want to become targets of a powerful gun-rights lobby.”

AP, however, added that gun-control politics may now change. The National Rifle Association (NRA) eight years ago pressured supporters in Congress not to renew the ban on assault rifles. In the wake of the Sandy Hook School shooting, however, Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia and a prominent gun-rights advocate, told MSNBC: “Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. It’s never happened in America that I can recall, seeing this carnage….

“Anybody that’s a proud gun owner, a proud member of the NRA, they’re also proud parents, they’re proud grandparents. They understand this has changed where we go from here.”

Supt. Rosenthal said he will begin his retirement with a visit to his vacation home in Arizona. “It’s the only home I own,” he told me with a laugh. Many of us will miss him.

Rosenthal leaves a school district that is debating its future, especially how best to educate students from Spanish-speaking homes.

Many teachers, parents, and other community members disagree over what approach to take, but debate is central to the operation of a public school. It’s how school personnel and the community air opinions, warn of potential problems, and suggest solutions. But there are no crystal balls.

Sandy Hook Elementary thought it had taken all the proper security measures to keep students and staff safe; however, almost nothing could have protected them from a sociopath with an assault rifle who entered the school by shooting his way through a locked glass door.

The simultaneous merriment in Tomales and suffering in Connecticut last Friday once again demonstrated that even at schools that are well run, outside forces — good or bad — can sometimes determine whether all goes well.