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When students return to school in Uvalde today, just 15 weeks after the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, 19 students and two teachers will not be present.
In just more than three months since the massacre, residents have sought to help children return to normalcy with familiar back-to-school rituals, tinged by grief.
In August, one family from Lockhart donated nearly 800 backpacks to students. The next day, an annual wellness fair at the Uvalde civic center included a booth with information on how to care for children and parents’ mental and physical health. Later that evening, people danced and enjoyed live music outside the town courthouse during a summer sendoff block party hosted by local businesses.
Meanwhile, families have questioned whether safety plans for the new school year are enough, and some have been forced to make hard decisions about whether or not to send their children back at all.
Parents, like Brianna Gonzales, are keeping their kids in the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District. Others, like Adam Martinez, whose 8-year-old son Zayon was present at Robb Elementary on the day of the shooting, will be sending their children to online classes, instead.
Students from Robb Elementary will be relocated to two other schools, and all schools in Uvalde implemented new security measures before the first day of class. Dalton Elementary added an 8-foot fence around the campus perimeter. Sacred Heart Parish School, which began classes two weeks ago, upgraded its security to include new cameras and polycarbonate bullet-resistant sheeting hidden behind colorful paper signs on outside windows.
First: Brianna Gonzales looks at a picture of her son, Javier, 10, taken at Robb Elementary early in the day on May 24 during a school awards ceremony. Javier was taken home by a family member just hours before that day’s shooting. Last: Javier Gonzales and his brother Emilio play in their backyard in the final weeks of summer. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune
First: A taller fence was installed at Sacred Heart Parish School in Uvalde, seen on Aug. 14, 2022. Middle: Principal Joseph Olan said that the security enhancements “”are the primary reasons why families are coming.” Last: A teacher crossed out the potentially triggering word “Lockdown” on a sign with emergency protocols and wrote a reminder for “Safety, safety, safety” beneath it. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune
First: The Uvalde Together Resiliency Center, currently in a temporary facility, will provide community services for about five years with state funding. Last: Donated toys sit inside a unit at the center. Buford explains that if a child is nervous about the counseling sessions, they are encouraged to pick a toy before beginning, which usually helps calm them down. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune
First: A page outlining the seven stages of grief sits on a desk inside a counseling room. Last: Buford explains that kids who play with the wooden houses are often seeking things that were familiar and normal. They might organize the house to restore a sense of order. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune
Even with the increase in police presence and security upgrades, Zayon said he still feels scared to return to school in person. Last: Zayon plays pool in the same room he will most likely be attending virtual classes for the upcoming school year. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune
First: Caricature artists draw children at a booth during the annual wellness event. Middle: Children use virtual reality goggles to explore tasks aligned with a specific career choice, with options like a robotics specialist, paint shop specialist, first responder and hotel front desk worker, among others. Last: A member of the Texas Workforce Commission demonstrates to a student how to use a laptop and other tools for home learning. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune
The full program is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in Austin. Explore the schedule of 100+ mind-expanding conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 elections and the 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher ed at this stage in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and so much more. See the program.