Attendance up in Little Falls Schools Tuesday, as students deal with deaths of their peers

By Terry Lehrke

Attendance in Little Falls Schools was higher than usual Tuesday, when classes resumed after the Thanksgiving holiday break and as school counselors and social workers reached out to help students deal with the deaths of classmates Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady.

Many students took advantage of the counseling made available to them, said Little Falls Superintendent Stephen Jones. The counseling was made available to students Monday, even though school was not in session, and will continue throughout the week, he said.

“It’s not exceptionally busy, not a mad rush, but we’ve certainly had our counselors and social workers reaching out and helping kids,” said Jones.

Jones said it was ironic that attendance was better than normal Tuesday. “We had fewer kids gone than on a normal day, “ he said. “We really feel kids wanted to be at school, where they feel safe and secure and able to talk to people about some pretty difficult stuff.”

Following the release of information after Monday’s news conference about some of the details of the shooting deaths of Kifer and Brady, Jones said “Kids are shocked; they are stunned by what they are hearing.”

Adults are having a hard time processing the information, he said, but “Kids are struggling worse, because it’s their age group, their friend group and their acquaintance group,” said Jones. “That’s presented some very difficult things for the kids to process.”

“I think the inability to put the events in a logical sense is really difficult for the kids,” he said.

Counselors are encouraging students to talk about their feelings, said Jones.

“They have to come to grips with this through their feelings. We’ve really stressed to kids to laugh, share memories and that it’s OK to cry,” he said. “Those are all normal emotions we feel during a tragic incident.”

Jones said helping students with the tragedy is not a “one-time” deal. “These are consistent things that we will be doing throughout, as long as needed,” he said.

Jones wants families to know that as well.

“If they (families) see something in their kids that doesn’t look like they’re handling things well, they can contact us,” said Jones.

The superintendent said staff at the district’s high school, middle school and the three elementary schools want to be as proactive as possible.

“We’re not forcing kids to come see us, but we’re really committed to this (helping students),” he said.

“We’re concerned about our staff as well,” he said. “Our staff obviously had relationships with these kids and some of our staff members are having a tough time processing this.”

The district has a crisis management plan in place, said Jones.

“Since the Columbine shooting, schools have really been focused on crisis management,” said Jones. “We have here at Little Falls a complete crisis management protocol.”

He said staff met Sunday and Monday and will meet again Friday with the district’s crisis management team to review and plan. “To make sure we’re providing all kinds of support for people and we’re handling things in a professional but empathetic manner for people involved,” he said.

“These are people, people in our communities,” he said. “That’s what we do in education.”

Jones said the district has been inundated with calls and messages from other school districts offering services to the district asking if more help or specific help was needed. “That has been very much appreciated,” said the superintendent.

Kifer finished her junior year at LFCHS and was a member of the school’s swimming and gymnastics team. She was completing her education this year at the Continuing Education Center (CEC).

Brady completed his sophomore year in Little Falls and transferring to Pillager High School, where he was a junior.

Families who feel their student needs help in dealing with the incident are asked to call their student’s school office. To reach the high school, call 616-2200; the middle school, 616-4200; Lindbergh Elementary, 616-3200, Lincoln Elementary, 616-6200 and Dr. S.G. Knight Elementary in Randall, 616-5200.