‘I Don’t Feel Safe.’ Children Fear Going Back to School in Uvalde

UVALDE, Texas – With just over two weeks to go before the start of the school year, Tina Quintanilla-Taylor drove her 9-year-old daughter, Mehle, through her new school, where she was supposed to start fourth grade.

The school was only about a mile from the one she attended last year, Robbie Elementary School, is now permanently closed after a gunman’s shooting left 19 students and two teachers dead. The new school looks clean and welcoming, but Mehle and her mother said they felt uncomfortable. No police were seen, Mehle said. The newly installed fence, she said, looked “thin” and easy to climb.

“I don’t feel safe,” she told her mother.

Quintanilla-Taylor has decided to enroll her daughter in state-approved online classes, as do many other parents in Uvalde, where the wounds of the May 24 shooting still linger. long after a summer of mourning. Some parents said they were also considering private schools, including one run by the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which begins the new school year on August 15 with double enrollment from last year. for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Quintanilla-Taylor said: “They are not ready for the new school year. “No one feels safe going back to school.”

Parents have faced school board members at meetings demanding answers about the police’s flawed response to the shooting and new security measures to keep students safe. at school.

One The legislative committee investigated the attack found serious deficiencies in the school’s readiness for a mass shooting, including interior and exterior doors that were not unlocked, contrary to school policy, and the 5-foot exterior fence that the gunman can easily climb over.

The commission also found “systemic failures and extremely poor decision-making” on the part of police officers, who waited more than an hour to take down the gunman. Texas Department of Public Safety investigators say Sheriff Pete Arredondo, who led the incident for the flawed response, failed to follow standard law enforcement training courses that could have ended the case. attack faster and save many lives.

The school board has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday in which they plan to fire Sheriff Arredondo, who has been on unpaid leave since the end of July. Parents have expressed frustration at the length of that process, and many say they are not assured that the district is equipped to prevent a similar tragedy.

School district officials said the start of the school year has been delayed to September 6, later than neighboring counties, to ensure students feel safe going to class in person. The district said it is strengthening the campuses with new 8-meter fences, security cameras, replacement door locks and additional police officers. Governor Greg Abbott said he has assigned more than 30 state troops to provide additional security.

With plans to eventually demolish Robb Elementary School, the district is installing portable classrooms at other schools to make room for students, while online classes will be available to those who don’t. feel ready to come back live.

“We are making progress,” Hal Harrell, the director, told parents in a video message outlining the new safety measures. “These are components that will be installed throughout the district, not just in one or two facilities.”

However, many parents say the installation of new security equipment is slow and they do not believe that all will be ready in time.

Grief still remains for survivors of the worst school massacre since the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., a decade ago, and many families have spent the summer celebrating organizations to hold their local officials more accountable. In early july, Hundreds of people marched from the campus of Robb Elementary School to the town square to demand the execution of police officers who led the faulty response, and called for stricter gun laws and measures. Better school safety.

More than a dozen residents have formed a group, Uvalde Strong for Gun Safety, to advocate for stronger gun control laws and safer schools. At a recent meeting, one of the team’s leaders, Dr. Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician who testified before Congress about the devastating injuries he witnessed that day, reminding parents that they have the right to keep their children out of school.

“Don’t send them and we’ll see what happens, agree? Here’s how you would respond to them. Don’t even send them virtual,” Dr. Guerrero told them. “That’s what I tell each of my patients.”

Quintanilla-Taylor, the mother of a 9-year-old boy who plans to take online courses starting this week, joined the chorus of families demanding to know why it took so long to learn. Fire Chief Arredondo.

Dr. Harrell, general manager, offer to fire him in Julybut the school board has repeatedly delayed action, in part because of the principal’s request for a postponement.

Quintanilla-Taylor said: “His omission has resulted in loss of life. “They should have fired him a long time ago. He took an oath. He failed that oath.”

That sentiment is shared by many others in town, including Arnulfo Reyes, a teacher at Robb elementary school who feels lucky to be alive after being rescued. shot twice and mocked for over an hour by the gunman as officers stood idle in a nearby hallway.

In this small town of 15,000 people, where many people are related, it is not an unusual twist of fate that Sheriff Arredondo will be Mr. Reyes’ cousin. But that doesn’t change Mr. Reyes’ view of what should happen. “I think he needs to go first. Fire him and the rest will follow like a domino. We need accountability,” Reyes said.

School district officials declined to say how many students will return to face-to-face classes at other facilities, and how many have opted to take classes online.

Jimmy Olivarez, 55, whose 10-year-old niece, Kendall, was in Room 112 when the gunman entered, said the mere mention of sending her children back to school scared her. Kendall was shot twice, in the left shoulder and back. One of her teachers, Irma Garcia, landed on her, possibly shielding her from more bullets, Mr. Olivarez said.

Ms. Garcia and a second teacher in the class died, but Kendall’s cousin and classmate dragged Kendall to safety.

She underwent five surgeries in the first 10 days at a hospital in San Antonio. Her grandfather said she survived but was still worried. During a recent thunderstorm, Kendall became frightened by rain and thunder, he said. “She thought it was bullets,” he said. He took her to a corner shop to buy lottery tickets to help her calm down.

He said he wasn’t sure if she would drop out of school altogether or take classes online. But one thing’s for sure, he said, “She’s not going back to school. She doesn’t feel safe. She was afraid that it would happen again.”

Cynthia Herrera is among the parents who said they are closely monitoring the district’s progress in improving safety. The 10-year-old stepchild she has raised since the age of 3, Jose, is died in the shooting. Her daughter, Andrea, 10, was severely traumatized, she said.

Bullets pierced Andrea’s classroom wall; The girl recounted seeing a teacher being shot moments before Andrea climbed out of the window to safety.

Ms Herrera said there were safety issues at the school that had come to light even before the shooting happened. Mr. Reyes, Jose’s teacher, reported two months before the attack that the lock on his classroom door was faulty, but it was never fixed.

The state legislative report notes that teachers and other staff members sometimes use rudimentary tools, such as stones, wedges, and magnets, to prevent doors from closing completely and automatically locking. The method was encouraged by the school police but to no avail.

“I just pray that they have learned their lesson and that they will keep our children safe,” Herrera said of the school district.

One weekend ago, Andrea was trying to decide whether to go back to school without her brother.

She paraded around her grandmother’s modest home with a maroon backpack and talked about seeing her friends again. Her fifth grade classes were scheduled at Flores Middle School, less than two miles from her alma mater, but she wasn’t sure where her friends would land.

Her mother told her the decision to come back was hers and reassured her that she could always choose to take online classes if she felt unsafe on campus.

“What do you think, ‘Buela?” Andrea asked her grandmother, Beatriz Herrera. She should trust her own instincts, Ms. Herrera replied.

So it was resolved. “I want to go back to school,” says Andrea.

“Okay,” her mother replied. “We’ll be back.”

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