UVALDE, Texas, USA ( Associated Press) — As the small Texan town of Uvalde struggles to heal its wounds after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school, it is also trying to ensure that its legacy as central to the fight for equal education for Mexican-Americans more than half a century ago.
In 1970 there was a six-week student walkout in the district after the school board decided not to renew the contract of George Garza, a popular Mexican-American teacher at Robb Elementary School. Student demands included a bilingual curriculum and the hiring of more Mexican-American teachers, but the school board refused to budge. In response, a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination against Hispanic students led to an order being issued against the district to end racial segregation, a case that took decades to resolve.
Now, some Hispanic leaders in Uvalde worry that increased social mobility through education could be another casualty of the May 24 massacre, should students fear returning to school.
“I keep thinking about education,” said Ronnie Garza, son of George Garza and a county commissioner representing the Uvalde area that includes Robb Elementary. “I feel bad for the children. How will they feel on the first day of school? I keep thinking about the teachers. Will they want to go back to school?
More than an hour passed between when the first police officers followed the 18-year-old attacker into the building until he was killed, according to an official timetable. At that time, parents gathered outside the school begged the agents to enter, while terrified children called the 911 emergency number.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw has said school district police chief Pete Arredondo, who was in charge of multi-department response, made the “wrong call” by not ordering officers to agents who broke into the classroom earlier to confront and take down the assailant.
Arredondo has not responded to numerous interview requests and questions from The Associated Press.
During a sometimes controversial news conference, officials from the Uvalde school district said Thursday that they would not answer any questions about the investigation or personnel matters, even after parents raised safety concerns. When Supervisor Hal Harrell was asked if he still trusts Arredondo, he replied, “That’s the staff.”
Harrell said the district would hire more police officers in the fall, and there is discussion about what will become of the school’s site.
“We are not going back to that campus in any way,” Harrell said.
Lalo Diaz, a Uvalde County justice of the peace who helped identify the victims’ bodies from the school where he himself studied, said tearing it down would be the right thing to do.
“It will be difficult for anyone to enter that place,” he said.
After massacres in different schools in the country, the communities have had problems deciding what to do with those facilities. In Newtown, Connecticut, voters authorized the demolition of Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 students and teachers were killed in 2012, and the construction of a new campus. In Colorado, Columbine High School, where 13 people were killed in 1999, still stands.
Stengle reported from Dallas.