by Brooke Crum
UVALDE, the United States, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- As students and staff across the United States are returning to classrooms for the first time since the Uvalde school shooting in which 19 students and two teachers died in May, many are wondering whether school officials have done enough to secure campuses and quell the fears of families sending their children back.
Especially in Uvalde, families and community members show little faith that adding more police officers to monitor school property will do much good to protect students and staff, referring to the 376 law enforcement agents who responded to the May 24 shooting and failed to intervene for 74 minutes.
Uvalde resident Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, with her daughter Mehle standing next to her, said at an open forum with the city's school board Monday night that she doesn't feel comfortable sending her kids back to school in September.
Her son has special needs and must attend school in person, so she is worried about his safety because she can't keep him at home to learn virtually, said the mother.
"I'm scared about this as a parent in this community," she said. "I am very, very scared."
Adam Martinez, another Uvalde resident, told the forum that when he told his son that more police would patrol schools this year, the boy said, "who cares about the cops? They're not going to go in anyway."
Resident Diana Olvedo-Karau said families are worried about sending their children back to school, despite the fact that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) has started adding 8-foot-high fences around campuses and will have 33 Texas Department of Public Safety officers at schools.
"Will police respond appropriately?" Olvedo-Karau asked. "At the end of the day, there's still no accountability for what happened. The administration, the law enforcement community in this city want it to go away."
At the forum, many people in the audience criticized the administration for not firing suspended school police chief Pete Arredondo and for reinstating former Robb Elementary Principal Mandy Gutierrez to a new administrative role. A woman at the meeting held a red sign with white letters that read "we want accountability."
Uvalde CISD Superintendent Hal Harrell acknowledged at the forum that trust has been broken between the community and district leadership.
"It's going to take a while to regain that trust," he said.
The Uvalde school district has poured almost 4.5 million U.S. dollars into school safety upgrades and mental health resources for students since the May 24 shooting, but families still don't feel that district leadership has done enough to rectify the failures that they say led to the shooting.
Most of the money, which comes from grants and donations, has been used to add fences, security vestibules at the front entrances of schools, door locks and cameras. The district also received a 750,000-dollar federal grant to provide counseling support services.
The status of Robb Elementary School, where the shooting took place, is still unclear. Harrell announced in June that the school would be demolished but said this week that it is still being used for investigative purposes. Robb served about 540 students in grades 2-4.
When school starts from Sept. 6 in Uvalde, students who would have gone to Robb will instead go to another two elementary schools. A virtual academy will be available for families who don't want to send their students back to school.
Across the country, some schools have sharpened the emergency operations plans they would employ in the event of an active shooter situation, while others have "hardened" campuses by making them less vulnerable to outside threats. That involves adding fences around the perimeter of schools, security cameras and campus monitors who would walk the halls and ensure doors are locked.
Nationwide, school systems also are adding more police officers on school campuses. In Livingston Parish schools in Louisiana, officials approved a 3-million-dollar agreement with the sheriff's office and several police departments to pay for daily patrols of all 52 campuses in the parish, The Advocate reported.
Other states have pushed for more guns in schools. At least 29 states, including Texas, allow school staff other than police or security guards to carry guns in schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Ohio lawmakers have made it easier for teachers and other school staff to carry guns on school grounds after the Uvalde shooting, reducing the number of required hours of training from 700 to 24, The New York Times reported.
While the Uvalde shooting was the deadliest so far in 2022, there have been 27 school shootings in 2022 that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to the school shooting tracker of Education Week, an independent news organization. There have been 119 since 2018, when Education Week began tracking such incidents.