UVALDE, Texas (KXAN) — “Stand with us or against us,” said Brett Cross, father of a murdered Uvalde CISD student.
Cross was among several family members who spoke up at Monday night’s special school board meeting, calling again for school Police Chief Pete Arredondo to be fired. He is currently on administrative leave.
“If he’s not fired by noon tomorrow [Tuesday], I want your resignation and every single one of you board members, because y’all do not give a damn about our children or us,” Cross said to applause from the crowd.
Many families pointed blame to all school board members and school Superintendent Hal Harrell.
“Just as you protect your children, you should’ve protected ours,” said Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of victim Amerie Jo Garza. “Now we’re holding you accountable, and we’re asking you to step down … you do not deserve to be up there, either.”
Arreola said it’s hard to say, because at one point, families had trusted and respected their school leaders.
“If things are not done the way they need to be done, we are prepared to walk out. We are prepared and keep our children home and not start school,” she said.
“Shame on you!” Some members of the crowd shouted at school board members.
Arreola told the school board families want security changes before kids go back for the 2022-23 school year and for those changes to be audited by a third party, “because we can’t trust y’all to make sure it’s done right.”
Harrell responded saying he agreed about the audit.
The special meeting was livestreamed on the school district’s YouTube page and comes the day after a Texas House committee released a 77-page report on its findings of the May 24 mass shooting, along with video of law enforcement response that day.
Harrell said he welcomed the report.
“It was very thorough, provided a lot of detailed information, gave us some very concrete information and elements to consider in our decision-making moving forward and for us to implement,” he said.
He said they are already working on some, like trying to find days for staff to undergo social and emotional learning, putting up a new, eight-foot fence on each campus, replacing and/or adding some doors, creating entry points on campuses that don’t have them and installing cameras this week.
“The House report will help us in our decision-making as we move forward,” Harrell said.
Some wanted to know why these weren’t done before the mass shooting.
Our kids’ first line of defense against intruders, against an outside threat, failed to lock. Why are we even here talking about this?
Rachel Martinez, mother of four Uvalde CISD students
“This failure falls on all of you,” Martinez added.
Sunday’s special House committee report found in March, school administrators got a report from the teacher in room 111 that his classroom door was not always locking. That’s the room the shooter entered just two months later.
On May 24, the report said no one had locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building of Robb Elementary — a violation of school policy. As a result, the attacker had unimpeded access to enter the building, continuing into adjoining rooms 111 and 112. There was no evidence he forced entry into room 111, indicating the door was also unlocked.
“I was not aware that that lock was not working,” Harrell told Cross.
“You’re the superintendent. You’re top dog, correct?” Cross replied.
“Yes,” Harrell said.
“So, you should know what’s going on in your schools?” Cross said.
“Correct,” said Harrell.
“Why don’t you?” said Cross.
Among school security concerns, the report found there was a “regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks.”
One factor behind that relaxed vigilance, the report indicated, is security alerts and lockdowns were frequent. There were 47 events since late February of this year. Around 90% of those calls were due to “bailouts” when officers chase a car with suspected undocumented immigrants, who then purposely crash and run away to avoid being arrested.
According to the report, Uvalde CISD parents became so concerned at one point they offered to hire off-duty police to supplement school police officers. Now, they want the current officers fired.
“You need to clean house. You need to start from zero. Hire experienced, trained officers,” Martinez said.
She and others joined Arreola in saying they aren’t willing to send their kids back to school until they see changes are made.
“My daughter, Layla, is so terrified of the thought of having to return to school in just a few short weeks that she comes to tears,” Martinez said. “My children are not mentally prepared to return to campus, and my husband and I are unwilling to send them.”
“This was the last dress that … all my friends saw me on. Most of those kids were my friends,” said one student. “And I don’t want to go to your guys’ school if you don’t have protection.”
“Your schools — they suck. They’re not secure. And we’re not sending our kids back. Build us a new school, 911 status,” said her mother.
Harrell said he’s requested the postponement of the first day of school to after Labor Day to give the district time to make security upgrades. He told families if changes aren’t finished by then, they’ll hold another meeting to decide what to do next.
When asked if virtual learning will be an option, Harrell said structures have to be in place, but they’re looking into it.
“How am I supposed to come back to this school?” said Jazmin Cazares, an incoming senior who lost her sister during the massacre. “What are you guys going to do to make sure I don’t have to watch my friends die? What are you going to do to make sure I don’t have to wait 77 minutes, bleeding out on my classroom floor, just like my little sister did?”