Briefing

A new school year begins in Uvalde — but are classrooms any safer?

'Nobody feels safe going back to school'

Students who survived the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and their families are preparing for the new school year. Parents say they are concerned that not enough has been done to secure the city's schools since the massacre, and many of the children are afraid to go back to the classroom. Here's everything you need to know:

What has been done to make Uvalde schools safer since the mass shooting?

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District says it has taken measures to make all elementary, middle, and high school campuses safer, including adding 8-foot perimeter fencing, installing more security cameras, and replacing door locks. The district, which delayed the first day of school to Sept. 6, still has a ways to go — ABC News reports internal progress reports show fences have yet to be put up at six of the eight campuses and only the high school has the new security cameras.

In July, a special Texas House committee investigating the mass shooting released a report that said Robb Elementary School was not adequately prepared for such an incident and was simple to breach, with unlocked doors and a five-foot fence that could easily be climbed over. There were also "systemic failures" in the law enforcement response to the shooting, with the officers who arrived at the scene — from the district, city, state, and federal levels — showing "egregiously poor decision making." No one stepped up to lead, the report said, and the gunman was not confronted until 77 minutes after he began firing.

Nineteen students and two teachers died in the massacre, with dozens wounded. The report states that the officers "failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety," and while most of the victims died immediately, it is "plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait" to be rescued from their classrooms.

Will students be returning to Robb Elementary School?

No. The school is permanently closed, and there are plans for it to be demolished. There are memorials to the victims at the school and other parts of Uvalde, and the city council is working with the families on a permanent monument to be placed downtown. Evadulia Orta, whose son Rojelio Torres was killed in the massacre, told KSAT this memorial will be a "spot for our kids that we can celebrate Christmas, holidays with them because we're not going to be able to do it now they're not here with us."

With Robb Elementary School closed, where will the students go to school?

The school district has set up portable classrooms on other campuses for the students who attended Robb Elementary School. Those who do not want to return to in-person instruction have the option of signing up for online classes. The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District has not said how many students have enrolled in virtual learning. Some families have decided to try private school, with The New York Times reporting that at the school operated by the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the enrollment for pre-Kindergarten through the sixth grade has doubled from last year.

Do parents think enough has been done to ensure their children's safety at Uvalde schools?

Many have shared with the media that they do not believe the schools are ready to reopen in September and are still seeking answers about the response to the shooting by law enforcement. On Wednesday, the Uvalde school board voted unanimously to fire the school district's police chief, Pete Arredondo, who was put on unpaid administrative leave after the shooting. The district's superintendent recommended in July that Arredondo be fired, and families questioned why it was taking so long for the board to act. "Why the hell does he still have a job with y'all?" Brett Cross, the uncle of Uziyah Garcia, asked the board during a July 18 meeting. "Because you all do not give a damn about our children or us. Stand with us or against us, because we ain't going nowhere."

Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, whose daughter Mehle will enroll in online classes, told the Times she does not believe the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District is "ready for the new school year. Nobody feels safe going back to school." In the wake of the shooting, several residents launched the group Uvalde Strong for Gun Safety, and Dr. Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician who treated many of the victims, is one of its leaders. The Times reports that he is telling parents if they want answers from the district and other officials, they shouldn't send their children to school. "This is how you are going to respond to them," he said. "Don't even send them virtually. That's what I tell every single one of my patients."

How are the survivors responding to the start of the school year?

Over the summer, some of the children who survived the shooting attended Camp I-CAN, where they had a "safe space to heal [and] have fun" while being "gently reintegrated ... into a school-like setting around their peers," the organization said. The nonprofit Don't Forget About Me also came to Uvalde and gave kids, their parents, and teachers free haircuts and massages. This has helped, but many of the children and their families remain nervous and scared about going back to school.

Kendall Olivarez, 10, was shot twice during the massacre, with bullets hitting her left shoulder and back. Her teacher, Irma Garcia, was killed in the attack, and fell on top of Kendall after being shot. Kendall's grandfather, Jimmy Olivarez, told the Times that his granddaughter, who had to undergo five surgeries and spend 10 days in the hospital, is anxious about returning to school, even if it's at a new campus. During a recent storm, the thunder and heavy rain frightened her, and "she thinks it is bullets all over again," he said. The Olivarez family hasn't yet decided if Kendall will enroll in online learning or take a brief break from school altogether, but they do know that for now, she will not be inside a traditional classroom. "She doesn't feel safe," Jimmy told the Times. "She is afraid that it is going to happen again."

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