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Uvalde school year starts amid fear and unfinished security

By Paul J. Weber
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A new and worrisome school year began Tuesday in Uvalde.

There is new high fencing around the Texas community’s public school campuses that still isn’t finished, a heavy police patrol that many families don’t trust and no classes ever again at Robb Elementary School, three months after a gunman with an AR-15-style rifle killed 19 children and two teachers inside two adjoining fourth-grade classrooms.

Ashley Morales is putting her son, Jeremiah, back in class — because she says she has no other choice as a working single mother. She said she would drop him off outside Uvalde Elementary on the first day, as parents weren’t allowed inside.

“I’m just nervous, scared,” said Morales, whose son was a third-grader last year at Robb Elementary and lost three friends in the May 24 massacre. During a recent “Meet the Teacher” night, she felt a rush of anxiety walking down the school hall.

“Oh my gosh, it’s actually going to happen,” she said. “School is going to start.”

Students began arriving at Uvalde Elementary before dawn Tuesday, walking through newly installed 8-foot (2.4-meter) metal fencing that surrounds the campus and past a state trooper standing guard outside an entrance. Colorful flags hung inside the hallways and teachers wore turquoise shirts that read “Together We Rise & Together We Are Better” on the back. State troopers were parked on every corner outside the school.

Teachers hugged students climbing out of cars in the drop-off line and guided them toward a line of teachers in turquoise shirts who were waiting for them behind the fence.

“Good morning, sunshine!” one teacher could be heard saying. “You ready to have a good school year?”

Although school started weeks ago in many parts of Texas, officials pushed back the first day of class in Uvalde after a summer of unfathomable heartache, anger and revelations of widespread failures by law enforcement who allowed an 18-year-old gunman to fire inside the adjoining classrooms for more than 70 minutes.

Despite pushing back the start of the school year, Uvalde school officials said several enhanced security measures remain incomplete, including installing additional cameras and new locks.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has committed to putting nearly three dozen state troopers on Uvalde campuses — but that was of no comfort to some families since there were more than 90 state troopers on scene during the attack.

More than 100 families in Uvalde signed up for virtual school, while others pulled their kids out of the district and enrolled them in private schools. One teacher who was shot in the abdomen and survived, Elsa Avila, wouldn’t be greetings students for the first time in 30 years because she is still recovering.

A damning report by a Texas House committee found that nearly 400 officers in all rushed to Robb Elementary after the shooting but hesitated for more than hour to confront the shooter. Body camera and surveillance footage showed heavily armed officers, some holding bulletproof shields, stacked in the hallway but not advancing to the classroom.

Steve McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, called the response “an abject failure.”

Last month, the Uvalde school board fired district police Chief Pete Arredondo, who McCraw and the House report accused of failing to take control of the scene and wasting time by looking for a key for a classroom door that was likely unlocked. The firing has not quieted demands for others to face punishment. One other officer — Uvalde Lt. Mariano Pargas, the acting police chief that day — has been placed on administrative leave.

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