AUSTIN (KXAN) — Investigators believe an 18-year-old shooter was able to get inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas through a door that appeared to be unlocked, according to a Department of Public Safety official.
In a press conference on Thursday, law enforcement gave an updated timeline of the events leading up to the shooting, which killed 19 children and two adults. Still, they noted many unanswered questions and unclear details.
“We’re still grabbing a lot of information,” DPS South Texas Regional Director Victor Escalon said.
Similar security questions and concerns arose in 2018, when a teenager shot 10 people inside Santa Fe High School, near Houston. Lawmakers and leaders responded with roundtable discussions and ultimately changed laws to try and prevent future tragedies.
The changes included millions of dollars for “hardening” schools with things like locks, alarms, metal detectors and cameras — even new guidelines for how buildings are designed and structured.
Lawmakers also ramped up the amount of information needed in each district’s “multi-hazard” emergency operations plan. However, in the most recent audit of these plans statewide, the vast majority of Texas school districts’ plans weren’t sufficient.
- Read more about these plans from the Texas School Safety Center here
According to the School Safety Center, only 67 Texas school districts had plans that followed all the best practices to be deemed “sufficient,” as of 2020.
162 districts, or 16%, did not have a plan in place at all, according to the findings of the report.
More than 90% of districts reported having an active shooter policy included in their plans, but the review found only 200 districts actually had a “viable” active shooter policy. It further found that 626 districts did not have an active shooter policy included in the plan.
According to a KXAN Solutions Journalism project in 2019, the Texas Education Agency — the state agency overseeing public schools — can appoint a conservator over school districts that are not in compliance with these safety reforms six months after an audit.
If there are still no changes after that, the state agency can then appoint a board of managers to run the security for the school.
KXAN investigators are working to find out which school districts have been found to be out of compliance and if they have conservatorships or boards of managers appointed.
KXAN asked the Director of the Texas School Safety Center, Kathy Martinez-Prather, about why some districts might still not have plans in place. She noted that just months after many of these new requirements went into effect, the pandemic changed the landscape for all districts.
“There’s always more that can be done,” she said. “I think the last two years, with the pandemic, and the stressors that have been put on on students, you know, definitely contribute to a lot of mental health issues that are going on out there.”
She said it was vital that school districts are staying vigilant, “reviewing and reinforcing” their current safety and security procedures.
“But, you know, you could have the best plan in place, you can have all the training in the world. I think that that definitely comes into play when an incident occurs, that you can have an effective response that minimizes as much loss to life as possible, but you cannot prevent these incidents from happening 100% of the time,” she said. “But you can prevent them from happening most of the time.”
The center facilitates much of the required training for school districts, but also offers additional, optional trainings on all kinds of safety considerations.
- Resource: Read more about Texas School Safety Center Tool-kits here
Martinez-Prather told KXAN that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District has a plan in place and has been an “active” part of their trainings and efforts.
UCISD also has a published list of preventative security measures online, including a policy for classroom doors to be closed and locked at all times and fences designed to limit access to campuses.