Just over a week after an SUV drove through the Waukesha Christmas Parade killing six and injuring more than 60, Waukesha School District students and staff returned to classes.
In a press conference Monday, Waukesha School District officials talked about how they planned the day for students and staff and the support the district was providing.
The district had closed Nov. 22 and 23 ahead of the district's already scheduled Thanksgiving break due to the parade tragedy. Counselors and resources were also made available last week to students and staff.
Waukesha School District deputy superintendent Joe Koch said staff began the day by talking to students about what happened and how the district would support them. He said the district had approximately 75 school counselors, social workers and psychologists working in the district Monday consisting of the district's own staff and those from neighboring school districts to work with students.
Koch estimated the district had seen 250 students across the district in some form of counseling session Monday.
"We've had groups of students, we've had some individual students come in, and that's varied by school site," said Koch.
When asked what students need in terms of support, Koch said students have been reaching out for someone to talk to for help in processing their feelings. He said the range of questions has varied by grade level.
"Elementary kids are asking things (like) - 'Are the people who were affected - are they going to be ok,' those types of questions. The middle level, where kids have a little bit deeper of an understanding, a little bit more connection to what happened - we're seeing a little bit more peer-to-peer concern and just again, how to process it. It's kind of been all over the board at our high school level just based off our understanding and closeness to the event," Koch said.
Koch said the level of support would continue the rest of Monday and Tuesday and then the district would continue to monitor the situation and redeploy staff across the district as needed. He also said the district has informed families when their children have gone in for support so they can be involved in that process.
Regarding students who were seriously injured in last week's incident, Koch said the district is looking at its plans with families so the students can access their classes when they're ready. He said there were some students with broken bones, bumps and bruises who returned on Monday.
Both Koch and Waukesha School District superintendent James Sebert said at the press conference they were in "complete shock" when they learned of the parade tragedy. Sebert said he and Koch met at the district offices the evening of Nov. 21 to gather more information about the incident and to plan what the next two days would look like. Both also went over to Waukesha South High School, which had been set up as a family reunification center, that same evening to provide comfort and support to those who had witnessed the incident.
Sebert said he was grateful for the way the Waukesha community has come together to support each other.
"We also recognize this is going to have some lingering effects and this is going to be a long road for some of our kids, some of our staff, and some of our families. We're certainly going to continue to rely on the strength of our community and we are going to continue on our strong belief that together, we will find our way through this and emerge as a stronger school district and a stronger overall Waukesha community," Sebert said.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Waukesha School District students return to classes