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Uvalde residents question the school district’s new safety plans for first school year since mass shooting

By Jesus Vidales, The Texas Tribune

Uvalde residents question the school district’s new safety plans for first school year since mass shooting” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The Uvalde school board at a Monday town hall discussed fixing crucial security issues exposed during the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary that left 21 people dead. But every resident who spoke said their plans were still not enough — and many had questions about whether some of the new security measures would be stained with the legacy of failures that contributed to Texas’ deadliest school shooting and the delayed law enforcement response to it.

A Texas House committee’s investigation of the shooting found “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power. The House committee’s report painted a damning portrayal of a school district that didn’t strictly adhere to its safety plan and a police response that disregarded its own active-shooter training.

Security plans for the new academic year, which begins Sept. 6 for Uvalde schools, call for 33 Texas Department of Public Safety officers to monitor campuses across the district. But Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District trustees couldn’t answer residents’ questions about whether any of those officers were among the 91 DPS officers who responded to Robb on May 24.

Diana Oveldo-Karau, a lifelong Uvalde resident, told trustees that some of those officers could be ones who were among those that waited more than an hour to confront the gunman.

“And I continue to just not understand how the school board and administration can believe that just because you have those DPS members on site … expect us to believe that our children will be safe,” Oveldo-Karau said. “Those are the people who failed us.”

Superintendent Hal Harrell said he would discuss the issue with a DPS lieutenant on Wednesday.

More than 350 law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal agencies responded to the shooting but took more than an hour to confront the gunman. Law enforcement doctrine dictates that officers immediately confront active shooters.

The Uvalde school board last week fired former schools police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was broadly criticized for the delayed response. Arredondo was listed in the district’s active-shooter plan as the commanding officer of such an event, but the consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that Arredondo did not assume that role and no one else took over for him. Arredondo’s lawyer has argued that his client should not have been assigned as the incident commander.

But Uvalde residents have pushed for officers from other agencies to also face repercussions for what’s widely viewed as a catastrophically fumbled response. The House committee report said that better-equipped departments should have stepped up to fill a leadership void after Arredondo failed to take charge.

Also discussed Monday were plans to use $15,000 in grant funding to do Wi-Fi audits. The House committee’s investigation also found that the district’s emergency management alert system isn’t always effective. It operates by sending out warnings online to teachers and faculty, many of whom access it through a smartphone app.

On May 24, not all Robb teachers received the alert about the gunman immediately, in part because of a poor wireless internet signal that made it difficult to send out the alert and the fact that many teachers didn’t have their phones or had them off at the moment they received it.

Harrell also said the district plans to upgrade door locks, add more fencing and increase the number of cameras in school buildings. Multiple witnesses told the House committee that Robb employees often left doors unlocked, while teachers would prop open doors. This was partly because of a shortage of keys. In March, the teacher in Room 111, through which investigators believe the shooter entered during the massacre, reported to school administrators that his classroom door “was not always locking.”

Despite all the new safety measures discussed Monday, mothers in the district like Laura Garza remain skeptical.

“I understand what you’re saying about doors being locked, but there are kids at the high school walking the hallways at all times,” Garza said. “Those are things that need to be looked into, not just a physical change, not just gates, but the actual school system in itself.”

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