Some parents fear Uvalde schools' safety upgrades won't be ready by new school year
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In Uvalde, Texas, the new school year is currently scheduled to begin next month, but many parents there are considering not sending their children back to class at all. The shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers has made them question whether any of the town's schools are safe. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Before the shooting at Robb Elementary in May, Yuri DeLuna had never once questioned whether her children were safe at school.
YURI DELUNA: I never thought of any of this. Once this happened, it changed everything.
FLORIDO: DeLuna has two sons in Uvalde schools, a fifth- and a sixth-grader. And after the shooting, she started to think about their school campus. And she made a decision.
DELUNA: I can't let my kids go back to school.
FLORIDO: Her younger son, Eloy, was supposed to start summer school a few days after the shooting, but DeLuna and her husband, Manny Castro, decided he wouldn't go. They took me to his school to show me why.
MANNY CASTRO: We're over here at Flores Elementary.
FLORIDO: This is where both of your sons go.
FLORIDO: It's an old two-story brick campus, no fencing around most of it, classrooms facing the street.
DELUNA: As you could tell, our doors, they're pretty old. Our windows - nothing - none of this has ever been upgraded in years. You know, if you could walk up and just shoot up, you have all these windows. It's easy - easy access.
FLORIDO: Her husband, Manny, walks toward the back of the school to the chain-link fence surrounding the playground. The gate is wide open.
CASTRO: It's not secured, right? It's open. Why wasn't this locked? Why can I just walk in there and - easy access - boom, all right?
FLORIDO: And in the past, I mean, that wouldn't have been a big problem necessarily, right? Like you said, you'd never really thought about it before this happened.
FLORIDO: You'd never come and look, take a critical eye at your school.
DELUNA: No, I've never looked at it or thought, oh, it was defective or it needed to be upgraded. We thought we were safe, but we're not.
FLORIDO: This is the haunting conclusion that many parents in Uvalde have reached in the last few weeks - that the town's public schools, the oldest built almost a century ago, can no longer protect their children. School superintendent Hal Harrell declined an interview request, but in a video message to parents last week, he said the district has been working with security consultants to make Uvalde's campuses safer.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
HAL HARRELL: They have designed schematics and ordering cameras, doors, entry points. They have a comprehensive plan that they do believe they'll have in place and stood up before the first day of school. New fencing is on its way, being shipped as we speak.
FLORIDO: He's also said the district is hiring more officers for the school police force, and it may still delay the start of the school year to give itself more time. Rachel Martinez has four daughters in Uvalde's schools. She hopes these upgrades are done in time, but she's skeptical because she thinks of all the ways the school district failed at Robb. There were no school officers on campus when the shooter arrived. And when they did get there, police did nothing for more than an hour. Doors that should have locked did not.
RACHEL MARTINEZ: It's things that are constantly running through your mind as school is approaching. It's scary to think that I have to send my kids back to that and expect them to be OK should anything else happen.
FLORIDO: Martinez remembers when she first learned there was a shooter. She started texting her daughters. None of them attended Robb, but their own schools went on lockdown. And in the chaos and confusion, they each thought the shooter might be at their school. Martinez's 11-year-old, Layla, sent her mom a text that said, I love you. Martinez's heart sank.
MARTINEZ: She was basically saying, like, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm scared for my life. And I love you, Mom, like that - thinking she might not come home. And so that's just a horrible thought for a child at 11 years old to go through and to have to go back to. So...
FLORIDO: So she's still debating whether to send her daughters back to school, enroll them in another district or to find another option. Yuri DeLuna and Manny Castro are leaning toward keeping their sons home this school year. DeLuna says her 11-year-old, Eloy, has been so scared since the Robb shooting that he only this week started sleeping in his room again.
DELUNA: And he's still not sleeping on his bed because he's scared of windows. So he sleeps on an air mattress on the floor.
FLORIDO: It's been really hard on Eloy because the two fourth-grade teachers who were killed were his teachers a year ago. He was almost held back to repeat the fourth grade. If he had been, he'd have been in the classroom.
ELOY: Like, if I would've been back there, I'd probably be killed. It's scary, like, how I barely went out.
FLORIDO: His mom says if she decides not to send Eloy and his brother back to school, she'll quit her job and home-school them.
DELUNA: I'd rather be broke than be burying one of my kids.
FLORIDO: When are you going to make that decision?
DELUNA: Hopefully by the end of the month. If I don't see no progress or, you know, even a fence being put up, they will be home-schooled.
FLORIDO: She says many Uvalde parents she's spoken to feel the same way.
Adrian Florido, NPR News, Uvalde, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.