(UVALDE, Texas) — Three months after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and just eight days before the start of the 2022-23 school year, a promised evaluation of responding school district police officers has not yet started, and those officers will be allowed to continue working within the district this fall, the board announced Monday evening.
When asked to clarify why the evaluation has not been initiated, the board said it prioritized evaluating Chief Pete Arredondo and the audit of the department. The embattled police chief who responded to the massacre was terminated last week, after months of community outcry.
Many citizens again expressed frustration and disbelief that returning officers this fall will include those who responded to the May 24 massacre, saying the officers “failed” the two teachers and 19 students who were killed, as well as the district’s families. Like in past meetings, residents asked for the board to suspend these officers until the evaluation is complete.
During the three back-to-back meetings that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District hosted Monday evening, tensions ran high as board members outlined investments they’ve committed to using in order to address campus safety and security and provide emotional support for students across the district. Many of these commitments have yet to be completed, the crowd of unimpressed Uvaldeans reminded the board Monday.
Although each campus will now have a designated “port of entry” for parents and visitors, one board member conceded that not all the doors and frames needed to secure the vestibules have arrived due to a backorder issue. Additionally, neither the number of promised counselors nor police officers have been hired, the board stated.
Uvalde:365 is a continuing ABC News series reported from Uvalde and focused on the Texas community and how it forges on in the shadow of tragedy.
J.J. Suarez, a board member seen in the surveillance hallway footage released by the Texas House Committee in July, was pressed on Monday with questions about his own response to the shooting, none of which he would concisely respond to; he vaguely said he did his “very best,” to which the crowd responded with chants of “shame on you.”
Diana Olvedo-Karau asked the board who exactly will be monitoring the 500 cameras the school district is installing (installment has only been completed at Uvalde High School), to which the board responded that it has yet to be determined.
Another question that was asked pertained to the assigned response team in the case another “bad guy” gets in any of the districts’ schools. The board said that the 33 deployed Texas Department of Public Safety officers will comprise the first responding team and they will initially set up an incident command structure. Olvedo-Karau followed up by asking how the officers will know the layout of the school in the case of emergency, to which Superintendent Dr. Hal Harrell said they will learn at orientation scheduled for Sept. 4-5.
Overall, families’ sentiment toward the board during the meeting was critical and dissatisfied. In an emotional, shared speech, family members read each of the board’s planned responses and paralleled the lives of their loved ones who might have been saved if each initiative would have been implemented before May 24.
“We’ve been waiting over three months for y’all to do [something],” yelled Brett Cross, uncle and legal guardian of shooting victim Uziyah Garcia, who said he raised the child, using an expletive to make his point. The family members then presented a list of additional requests they asked the board to fulfill, including a version of the hallway surveillance footage that is time-stamped with the identification and arrival time of each responding officer, and a private meeting between victims’ families and the officers working in the district for the 2022-23 school year.
Other news that came from the meetings was the announcement that 136 students are enrolled in the virtual academy for the upcoming school year so far. Enrollment for the online learning option is open officially until Aug. 31, but Harrell claims the district will work with any child who decides they would like to learn remotely.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that Brett Cross is Uziyah Garcia’s uncle and legal guardian, and not Uziyah’s father.
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.