Public schools in Uvalde are reopening: here’s what’s happening

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Students return to campuses surrounded by new 8-foot-tall fences, designed to be impossible to climb. The school district plans to supplement its five police officers with 33 soldiers from the Texas Department of Public Safety and has hired security monitors to check door and window locks.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District has pushed back the start of the 2022-23 school year by three weeks to allow for safety upgrades, but not all will be completed on time, angering some parents .

District leaders acknowledged that they had a trust problem. Safety concerns have prompted some parents to enroll their students in other school districts. Every CISD Uvalde family had the option of enrolling their children in an online academy to learn from home, but only 136 students signed up.

An old fence was demolished at the Benson Educational Complex in Uvalde, Texas to make way for a new 8-foot non-scalable security fence. The campus is renamed Uvalde Elementary and will serve third and fourth graders, who were at Robb Elementary last year.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer Sam Owens

That suggests the bulk of the district’s enrollment — it was 4,116 students last year — will be back on campus today.

Kimberley Rubio, who lost her daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio on May 24, is sending her other children to school today. Even as late as Monday afternoon, she hadn’t let herself think about the “goodbye” moment yet.

“I just closed it, but I imagine it’s going to be extremely difficult,” Rubio said.

She also didn’t have many conversations with her kids about the first day of school, but “I kind of took their lead,” Rubio said.

“My elders have been discussing what they’re wearing that day. A lot of people are going to wear Uvalde Strong in support, so I think they’re going to be wearing their Lexi shirts. Bringing it with them on their new school year.

“We won’t be taking pictures of the first day of school,” Rubio added. “It’s too hard to see her disappear. So, no photos.

Administrators have stressed the need for ‘structure and routine’ for students returning to class in the shadow of the second-worst school shooting in US history and the deadliest on record in Texas .

To that end, he announced schools would be barred from an expected large media presence and asked reporters and photographers to work from “adjacent” properties and not obstruct campus parking.

The district declined advance interview requests, “to allow district staff to focus on preparing for the return to school,” but encouraged the community and media to check for updates on its back to school webpage.

Balerie Muñoz, 17, was at Uvalde High School‘s emotional home opener on Friday night and said concerns about school safety were constantly in the background.

“I’m excited for my senior year but with the shooting, I don’t know if the school has improved security,” Muñoz said. “I just hope we get better cops. Last year we had a lot of bomb threats. It’s frightening. I’m excited but I’m worried.

At a town hall Aug. 29, District Superintendent Hal Harrell said 90% of fencing had been installed, but reinforcement of entrances and vestibules had lagged due to supply chain issues.

The installation of security cameras is also falling behind, Harrell said. Some 500 cameras are on order.

The May 24 massacre made Uvalde the latest symbol of the nation’s vulnerability to armed attacks on schools. An 18-year-old gunman, using a semi-automatic rifle he bought legally from an online retailer, entered the school through an unlocked door and killed 19 children and two teachers huddled in two rooms of interconnected classes.

The tragedy was compounded by a botched response from law enforcement. School district force officers, the Uvalde Police Department, DPS, and other agencies waited more than an hour before storming classrooms and killing the shooter. During the long wait, the children repeatedly called 911 from the classrooms, begging for help.

DPS Director Steve McCraw described the law enforcement response as a “dismal failure” and blamed Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, then chief of CISD Uvalde’s police force, who McCraw said , was the incident commander on scene.

The Uvalde school board fired Arredondo on August 24.

A Texas House committee that investigated the shooting said Arredondo was not solely to blame. “In hindsight, we can say that Robb Elementary did not sufficiently prepare for the risk of an armed intruder on campus,” the panel report said.

The school’s 5-foot fence “was not sufficient to significantly impede an intruder”, the committee concluded. The shooter threw a backpack over the fence on the morning of May 24, then climbed over it and entered the school, firing high-velocity bullets from his rifle.

Julissa Garcia-Talavera, a Catholic school teacher, Sacred Heart Uvalde, has two children who attend Uvalde Secondary School. After watching how the UCISD board responded to parents who lost children in the tragedy, she is skeptical about the district’s ability to respond to other types of issues.

“Who am I to go talk about (my daughter) maybe being approached by drugs or maybe a bullying problem?” Garcia-Talavera said Monday. “Really? What do I think now (the district is going to) really do about something like this?

“I saw them silent for three months,” Garcia-Talavera said. “I don’t see how anything else would matter on top of that.”

Garcia-Talavera hopes that more trust will be built between school leaders and families at the start of the school year and that relations will have a chance to improve.

Robb Elementary will stand empty today and should be torn down and replaced. Its students were distributed to other campuses.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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