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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Waukesha School District: more than 500 students received counseling on first day back since parade incident

Memorials placed along Main Street in downtown Waukesha left in areas where people were hit by a driver plowing into the Christmas parade on Main Street Nov. 21.
Jim Vondruska
Getty Images
Memorials placed along Main Street in downtown Waukesha left in areas where people were hit by a driver plowing into the Christmas parade on Main Street Nov. 21.

Waukesha School District students returned to classrooms Monday for the first time since the deadly parade attack in their city.

A driver careened through the Waukesha Christmas parade Nov. 21, killing six people and wounding more than 60—many of them children.

Waukesha schools Deputy Superintendent Joe Koch said he doesn’t know exactly how many students were injured in the parade incident.

"We did have students who experienced bumps and bruises," Koch said. "We had student along the continuum – broken bones all the way to being hospitalized and still in the hospital. I don’t have an exact number. You know, we do have the emotional injury to this though, and we know many of our students were along that parade route and saw what that individual did. And saw the impact that it had on the people who participated in the parade."

Koch said the district’s focus this week is helping students deal with the emotional trauma.

The district gave teachers a statement to help them navigate what they should say to students on Monday.

Koch read part of the statement: "Many of you may have upsetting feelings and questions from witnessing or hearing about this tragic incident and those affected. I will try to answer any questions as best I can. If you would like we will take the remainder of this class period to talk about what happened. At times like this it’s okay to have many different feelings, including sadness, anger and disbelief. It’s OK to cry."

Students were allowed to leave class to go to counseling centers set up at each school, some in libraries and auditoriums to meet an increased demand.

The centers are staffed by Waukesha’s about 50 school psychologists, social workers, and counselors, along with about 25 support staff borrowed from neighboring districts.

Koch said on Monday, the counseling centers saw more than 500 students. Waukesha’s total enrollment is about 12,000.

"Across our system there was varying levels of need in terms of how busy the school was on it," Koch said. "Some schools saw 150 kids, some schools saw 10 to 15 kids. It was just how close people were to what happened in the Christmas parade."

One school community that was especially impacted is Waukesha South High School. The marching band was one of the groups in the parade that was hit by the driver. Koch confirmed some of those students were injured. He said the band has received additional counseling support.

Koch said on Tuesday, demand for counseling had slowed down. He said this week, and throughout the rest of the school year, the district will closely monitor whether students need additional mental health support.

A suspect has been arrested and charged in the parade incident. Darrell Brooks is being held on $5 million bail.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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