Skip to content

Uvalde and Teaching in the Age of the School Shooting

July 27, 2022

On July 17, 2022, the Texas House of Representatives’ Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary (Uvalde) Shooting released this interim report regarding the horrific events resulting in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers at the school on May 24, 2022.

I include excerpts from the committee’s findings at the end of this post, but I must say, in the terrible aftermath of yet another school shooting, as a public school teacher, I am tired of being expected by the greater society to also fill the role of safety super hero in my classroom and school.

I have a Louisiana friend who was raised in Uvalde, Texas, and who recently commented to me that what is needed is for all schools have only a single entrance and exit with security akin to that at airports.

Just increase security and have a single entrance and exit. It seems so simple, so easy to suggest.

I responded that our campus is not laid out like an airport; that we haven’t the money, personnel, time, and psychological energy to scan all who enter and exit throughout the day. There would be no teaching, which is frankly where I feel we are headed as I reflect on the increased burden for saving society that has been added to school day and school year since I began teaching three decades ago, in 1991.

More and more of my time and energy go into strategizing how I might actually be able to work around all that takes time away from instruction in order to effectively educate my students to some modest degree. School safety protocols appear to be an ever-increasing part of that demanding mix.

I am not advocating for a sloppy attitude towards professional expectations, or secure school campuses, or reasonable safety preparedness. However, I am a teacher, not a ninja warrior. Not James Bond. Not a security command center. Not a bullet-deflecting force field.

And yet.

And yet, I feel critically responsible for the safety of the students in my care precisely because I care for them.

When it comes to school safety issues coupled with the ready availability of firearms in America today, society has placed me and my teaching colleagues nationwide in the position of Sitting Duck, and I know it all too well.

I thought of further discussing the physical safety of my own classroom and school particularly in conjunction with certain report findings presented below, but I will refrain because I do not think it wise to divulge such information in a public setting.

On July 26, 2022, the principal of Robb Elementary, Mandy Gutierrez, was placed on administrative leave with pay apparently in association with some of the Texas legislative interim report findings regarding school security and facilities issues.

The report includes a dedication to the 21 victims who lost their lives; preface; background and history of the investigation; the attacker; law enforcement response; information flow, and factual conclusions.

Without further comment, I offer excerpts from the preface and background/history. I invite readers to read the entire document.

PREFACE
This is the interim report of the Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting of the Texas House of Representatives.

Conscious of the desire of the Uvalde community and the public at large to receive an accurate account of the tragedy at Robb Elementary School, the Committee has worked diligently and with care to issue this interim report of its factual findings. The Committee’s work is not complete. We do not have access to all material witnesses. Medical examiners have not yet issued any reports about their findings, and multiple other investigations remain ongoing. The Committee believes this interim report constitutes the most complete telling to date of the events of and leading to the May 24, 2022, tragedy.

This Committee has prioritized factual accuracy, as will be evident from our attention to conducting our own interviews and documenting our sources of information. Still, based on the experiences of past mass-shooting events, we understand some aspects of these interim findings may be disputed or disproven in the future.

The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency.

DEDICATION
The Committee submits this report with great humility and the deepest respect for the victims and their families. It is the Committee’s sincere hope that this brings some clarity for them as to the facts that happened. This report is meant to honor them.

You will notice the name of the attacker is not mentioned. We also will not use his image, so as not to glorify him.

INTRODUCTION & EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Of necessity, this report will describe shortcomings and failures of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and of various agencies and officers of law enforcement. At the outset, we acknowledge that those same shortcomings could be found throughout the State of Texas. We must not delude ourselves into a false sense of security by believing that “this would not happen where we live.” The people of Uvalde undoubtedly felt the same way. We must all take seriously the threats to security in our schools and the need to be properly prepared to confront active shooter scenarios.

Other than the attacker, the Committee did not find any “villains” in the course of its investigation. There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making. We recognize that the impact of this tragedy is felt most profoundly by the people of Uvalde in ways we cannot fully comprehend.

The School
With hindsight we can say that Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder on campus.

The school’s five-foot tall exterior fence was inadequate to meaningfully impede an intruder. While the school had adopted security policies to lock exterior doors and internal classroom doors, there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks. At a minimum, school administrators and school district police tacitly condoned this behavior as they were aware of these unsafe practices and did not treat them as serious infractions requiring immediate correction. In fact, the school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys.

The school district did not treat the maintenance of doors and locks with appropriate urgency. In particular, staff and students widely knew the door to one of the victimized classrooms, Room 111, was ordinarily unsecured and accessible. Room 111 could be locked, but an extra effort was required to make sure the latch engaged. Many knew Room 111’s door had a faulty lock, and school district police had specifically warned the teacher about it. The problem with locking the door had been reported to school administration, yet no one placed a written work order for a repair.

Another factor contributing to relaxed vigilance on campus was the frequency of security alerts and campus lockdowns resulting from a recent rise of “bailouts”—the term used in border communities for the increasingly frequent occurrence of human traffickers trying to outrun the police, usually ending with the smuggler crashing the vehicle and the passengers fleeing in all directions. The frequency of these “bailout”-related alarms—around 50 of them between February and May of 2022—contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts.

Other factors delayed the reporting of the threat to the campus and to law enforcement. Low-quality internet service, poor mobile phone coverage, and varying habits of mobile phone usage at the school all led to inconsistent receipt of the lockdown notice by teachers. If the alert had reached more teachers sooner, it is likely that more could have been done to protect them and their students.

In violation of school policy, no one had locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building of Robb Elementary. As a result, the attacker had unimpeded access to enter. Once inside, the attacker continued into the adjoining Rooms 111 and 112, probably through the door to Room 111, and apparently completely unimpeded. Locking the exterior and interior doors ultimately may not have been enough to stop the attacker from entering the building and classrooms. But had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes—long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker before he could massacre 19 students and two teachers.

The Responders
Since the 1999 Columbine tragedy, the law enforcement community has recognized the critical importance of implementing active shooter training for all officers, regardless of specialty. Also, all officers must now acknowledge that stopping the killing of innocent lives is the highest priority in active shooter response, and all officers must be willing to risk their lives without hesitation.

At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.

The first wave of responders to arrive included the chief of the school district police and the commander of the Uvalde Police Department SWAT team. Despite the immediate presence of local law enforcement leaders, there was an unacceptably long period of time before officers breached the classroom, neutralized the attacker, and began rescue efforts. We do not know at this time whether responders could have saved more lives by shortening that delay. Regardless, law enforcement committed numerous mistakes in violation of current active shooter training, and there are important lessons to be learned from each faulty assumption and poor decision made that day.

The Uvalde CISD’s written active shooter plan directed its police chief to assume command and control of the response to an active shooter. The chief of police was one of the first responders on the scene. But as events unfolded, he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander. This was an essential duty he had assigned to himself in the plan mentioned above, yet it was not effectively performed by anyone. The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon.

A command post could have transformed chaos into order, including the deliberate assignment of tasks and the flow of the information necessary to inform critical decision making. Notably, nobody ensured that responders making key decisions inside the building received information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in Rooms 111 and 112, and had called out for help. Some responders outside and inside the building knew that information through radio communications. But nobody in command analyzed this information to recognize that the attacker was preventing critically injured victims from obtaining medical care. Instead of continuing to act as if they were addressing a barricaded subject scenario in which responders had time on their side, they should have reassessed the scenario as one involving an active shooter. Correcting this error
should have sparked greater urgency to immediately breach the classroom by any possible means, to subdue the attacker, and to deliver immediate aid to surviving victims. Recognition of an active shooter scenario also should have prompted responders to prioritize the rescue of innocent victims over the precious time wasted in a search for door keys and shields to enhance the safety of law enforcement responders.

An effective incident commander located away from the drama unfolding inside the building would have realized that radios were mostly ineffective, and that responders needed other lines of communication to communicate important information like the victims’ phone calls from inside the classrooms. An offsite overall incident commander likely could have located a master key more quickly—several people on campus had one. An offsite overall incident commander may have suggested checking to see if officers could open the door without a key—in hindsight, they probably could have. An offsite overall incident commander who properly categorized the crisis as an active shooter scenario should have urged using other secondary means to breach the classroom, such as using a sledgehammer as suggested in active shooter training or entering through the exterior windows.

Uvalde CISD and its police department failed to implement their active shooter plan and failed to exercise command and control of law enforcement responding to the tragedy. But these local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy.

Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies—many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police—quickly arrived on the scene. Those other responders, who also had received training on active shooter response and the interrelation of law enforcement agencies, could have helped to address the unfolding chaos.

Yet in this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post. Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD chief of police or anyone else perceived to be in command to point out the lack of and need for a command post, or to offer that specific assistance. Several will suggest they were misled by false or misleading information they received as they arrived; however, the “chaos” described by almost all of them demonstrates that at a minimum, responders should have asked more questions. This suggests a training deficiency, in that responding officers failed to adequately question the absence of command. Other responders failed to be sufficiently assertive by identifying the incident commander and offering their assistance or guidance, or by assuming command in the absence of any other responder having expressly done so. In this sense, the entirety of law enforcement and its training, preparation, and response shares systemic responsibility for many missed opportunities on that tragic day.

Robb Elementary is slated to be razed.

_____________________________________________________

Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter (don’t be scared) @deutsch29blog

2 Comments
  1. Robert Tellman permalink

    As a former teacher at the elementary level, I think about kids at recess and PE outside, carefree and having a good time.
    Are we to keep kids indoors all day? What about sports teams, cheerleaders, marching bands and others outside practicing?
    I am so grateful my children and I did not have to grow up with today’s problems. We were free to be children.
    But I worry about my grandkids! It’s not fair that they cannot stay innocent in today’s world. Once you lose your innocence, so much is lost and you can’t get that innocence back. Lack of time to simply be innocent is unhealthy and sad.
    The proliferation of wokeness only makes growing up that much more difficult.
    But I guess it’s better than losing one’s life and not getting to grow up at all.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Uvalde and Teaching in the Age of the School Shooting — deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider’s Blog | David R. Taylor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s