With the new school year in Uvalde, Texas, just over a week away, Superintendent Hal Harrell gave an update Monday night on new security measures across the district in the wake of the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School, including the hiring of more officers on campuses and the installation of cameras in schools.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will have at least 33 officers present at schools throughout the academic year and the district has hired three new officers, Harrell said.
At least 500 cameras have been ordered for campuses across the district, but installation work isn’t expected to be complete before the school year begins September 6, Harrell said.
The district will also employ campus monitors who will walk around continuously to check things like interior and exterior doors and gates.
Harrell noted fencing installation around various campuses is ongoing and will continue until completed.
The announcements came during a special town hall meeting hosted by the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District held more than three months after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in adjoining classrooms. Police waited for more than an hour before they forced their way into the classrooms and killed the gunman, leading to still-unanswered questions as to what they were doing during the delay.
The lengthy delay contradicted widely taught protocol for active shooter situations that call for police to immediately stop the threat and came even as children inside repeatedly called 911 and begged for help.
During an open forum following the superintendent’s announcement, parents and community members expressed frustration with district leadership, with many saying they are uncomfortable with the fact that school district officers who were part of the delayed response to the shooting will still be tasked with protecting students when the school year begins.
“I continue to not understand how the school board and administration can believe … our children are going to be safe? Those are the people that failed us,” one speaker said.
Another speaker said her children now go to school in a different district because they don’t feel safe in the Uvalde district.
Harrell noted the district is planning to audit members of the school district police force, but the audit hasn’t started yet. He said the school district officers will serve in a “support role” alongside the DPS officers who will be on campuses.
Brett Cross, the father of 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, who was killed in the shooting, pressed the superintendent on whether he felt comfortable having the existing school police officers who were employed during the shooting remain on staff.
“I am comfortable with them being in a support role,” Harrell said.
Cross later expressed frustration with the school board’s answers during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“Y’all make it abundantly clear that y’all don’t care,” Cross said, arguing they haven’t done enough to protect the schools. “Y’all don’t care … And you want to know why? It’s because y’alls’ lives weren’t robbed.”
School board secretary Laura Perez assured speakers and parents the board does care.
“It’s been very personal for me, and I really don’t want to share this, but since we brought it up. I was there, I know the injuries, I know the deceased and I watched my friend walk down the hallway to identify her child,” she said, adding that she – and her children – were born and raised in Uvalde.
“I’m not going to leave until we fix things, but you have to be patient because I don’t want us to do anything the wrong way. And don’t think we’re not going to address your concerns because we will … It’s a process, and we’re going to do it and we going to do right by your children and those 21 lives,” Perez said.
School board sessions held since the shooting have repeatedly featured heated commentary and frustrations from parents who have demanded accountability and called for the firings of those in charge that horrific day.
Last week, the Uvalde school board voted unanimously to immediately terminate the contract of district Police Chief Pete Arredondo. Though Arredondo has said he did not consider himself the incident commander, state authorities have identified him as such and a CNN review of videos of the police response shows him at the center, giving orders, conveying and receiving information and coordinating officers outside the classrooms.
Arredondo didn’t attend last week’s meeting. His attorney instead issued a 17-page press statement that said the district wasn’t following legal procedure as it moved to fire Arredondo and called the termination a “public lynching.”
Lt. Mike Hernandez was named interim police chief, the school district’s board of trustees said in a statement.
Some parents have also called for the removal of Harrell, the superintendent. A report from a Texas House investigative committee cited Robb Elementary’s “culture of noncompliance with safety policies,” including its failure to adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder and the common practice of leaving doors unlocked.