Parents and Student demand “serious culture change” and more security in Uvalde high school after mass student shooting
When school starts in a few weeks, Jasmin Cazares will be a senior at Uvalde high school, but she’s not ready to return.
After Cazares’s sister, nine-year-old Jacklyn Cazares, died in the mass shooting at Robb elementary school in the tiny south Texas town two months ago, she’s demanding stronger security from the school district.
“How am I supposed to come back here?” Cazares told Uvalde’s school board Monday night. “What are you going to do to keep me from spending 77 minutes bleeding out on the floor, like my sister did?”
Cazares was one of dozens of speakers at a tense and emotional school board meeting that lasted more than three hours Monday night. Uvaldeans lined up to demand answers from the district’s superintendent about plans to increase security at campuses, after 19 children and two teachers were killed by a teenage gunman with an assault rifle in May.
Amid shouting from speakers and about 150 audience members, bursts of applause and wails of anger and dismay, many said they will not send their children to school without meaningful changes and demanded the district “clean house” by firing multiple employees.
Speakers wanted the school district’s police chief, Pete Arrendondo, to lose his job. Others called for every officer in the school’s police department, the principal of Robb elementary school and the superintendent to also lose their jobs.
A preliminary report cited systemic failures by the authorities for not preventing the tragedy or mitigating it early, as officers dithered amid a lack of leadership outside the classroom where the gunman was holed up, killing children.
“There needs to be a serious culture change within our local law enforcement,” Uvalde resident Hector Rollo said at the meeting. “Change has to happen. These families deserve it. Their children deserve it. These students deserve it.”
Since soon after the shooting, this community has been rocked by misinformation and a lack of transparency about what actually happened that day. The continued lack of accountability, many parents have said, has continued to erode that trust.
“There’s going to be a lot of work to do to bring back trust,” superintendent Hal Harrell said. “It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to be bit by bit.”
Harrell said that the district is working on installing nine-foot fences around most school campuses, and is proposing that the district push the start of the school 2022-2023 year until after Labor Day in early September, as the board is just now beginning to receive the results of multiple investigations, just like the public.
He also said Arredondo has been placed on administrative leave and the authorities will consider new evidence in determining if he will keep his job.
The district conducts personnel matters in closed executive sessions of the school board.
“I’ll never be able to bring back what was lost,” Harrell said. “This report we just received will help us make some decisions.”
Throughout the meeting, enraged and heartbroken residents in the audience from the severely traumatized community shouted, calling the board members “cowards”.
Michael Brown, whose nine-year-old son was in the school cafeteria on the day and survived the atrocity, carried two signs, saying: “We want accountability” and “prosecute Pete Arredondo”. When Brown got up to speak, he said: “Do you think our officers that were in the school that day did their job?”
“No,” Harrell said.
Brown asked why they were still in place, as other parents applauded. “That’s the bottom line,” Brown said, adding: “It’s disgusting.”
Brett Cross, an uncle of 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, who was among those slain, demanded the board terminate Arredondo.
“If he’s not fired by noon tomorrow, I want your resignation and every single one of these board members because you don’t give a damn about us or our children,” Cross said, addressing Harrell.
Rachel Martinez, a mother of four, said she can see the bright yellow door to her daughter’s elementary classroom when she drives by the school.
The classroom should not be that accessible, she said. Martinez said her daughter cries when her parents bring up the start of the new year and is not mentally prepared to face school again.
“These are things that haunt me. These are the things that keep me up at night,” Martinez said. “You want to hire more resources officers, but the current officers are incompetent. You need to start from zero. You need to clean house.”
Mehle Taylor, a child at Robb elementary, took the microphone early in the meeting, stepping out from behind the podium to show the board her white dress with blue flowers.
“This is the last dress my friends saw me in,” she told the board. “I don’t want to go to your school if there’s not protection.”
Texas state police on Monday announced an internal review into the actions of dozens of troopers who were at the school during 73 minutes of bewildering inaction by law enforcement as the gunman slaughtered his victims.
The announcement appeared to widen the fallout of a damning 80-page report released over the weekend by the Texas House that revealed failures at all levels of law enforcement and identified 91 state troopers at the scene – more than all Uvalde officers combined.
It also amounted to a public shift by the Texas department of public safety (DPS), which until now has largely criticized local authorities.
“You got 91 troopers on the scene. You got all the equipment you could possibly want, and you’re listening to the local school cop?” said state senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde and who has accused DPS of seeking to minimize its role in the response.