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Uvalde School District’s safety plan ultimately failed to stop the shooter

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Uvalde students and teachers were no strangers to the closures. The town is just an hour from the US-Mexico border and, according to a teacher, schools were often closed when authorities chased someone who had fled from police custody. They had a lot of practice.

Then there was the school system safety plan. It was multi-faceted, addressing everything from student mental health to the possibility of registered sex offenders coming to campus. The district had its own small police force — unusual for a school system of this size — in addition to armed guards. According to the plan, he has also hired a private company that provides gun and drug sniffing dogs.

Almost every US school has prepared for a shooting, with more than 96% of public schools holding active-fire drills. But the deadly Uvalde massacre – and other school shootings – shows that there are limits to this preparation. An expensive, multi-layered security plan can be undone by something as small as an open door and a school police force can fail to prevent the worst-case scenario.

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Some public health experts have concluded that the best way to stop school shootings is to keep firearms – and semi-automatic rifles like Salvador Ramos’ – out of the hands of people who intend to kill schoolchildren. But because lawmakers have been reluctant to pass restrictions, it has been left to schools – and the teachers and children inside – to figure out how to defend themselves against gunmen who may be more heavily armed than local police. .

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw offered a more detailed timeline of events at a press conference on Friday, leading to questions about why police waited an hour to breaking through the classroom doors as desperate students called 911. But it also brought to light how the school’s security systems failed to stop Ramos, a high school dropout who had bought the guns shortly shortly after his 18th birthday.

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According to McCraw, CCTV shows a teacher opening an exterior door at 11:27 a.m. on May 24. This was around the time Ramos crashed a truck into a nearby ditch, then came out shooting at passers-by. The teacher then went to their classroom to retrieve a cell phone and at 11:30 p.m., although it is unclear from where, they called 911. Within two minutes, Ramos was firing on the building of the school and a police officer from the school had arrived on the scene. .

McCraw did not say what happened to the teacher, but at 11:33 a.m. Ramos slipped into the school building through the open doors. He walked down a hallway, where he found the classrooms of Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, a pair of teachers who often co-taught and had adjoining classrooms connected by a bathroom. According to 11-year-old student Miah Cerrillo, who shared her harrowing account with CNN, a teacher went to lock the door but it was too late – the shooter was already there. He said “good night” and shot her, Miah said.

Ramos was able to walk through both sets of doors despite district safety protocol, which requires schools to lock all exterior doors and keep classroom doors closed and locked “at all times.” And although an officer was on the scene when he entered the building, law enforcement lapses allowed the shooter to lock himself in the classroom for an hour before anyone walked through the doors. .

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School safety experts say it’s important to have multi-tiered approaches to preventing gunshot deaths in schools because no one approach is foolproof.

According to Uvalde’s school system security plan, it had such a system that included school counselors, social workers, and special “threat assessment teams” intended to assess students who appear to be a threat to themselves or for others. It’s unclear whether Ramos, who had no record of mental illness, had been on the school’s radar.

Following a 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that killed 10 people, state lawmakers passed a series of laws aimed at preventing the kind of bloodshed that has taken place. took place at Robb Elementary School. State records show Uvalde received a $69,000 grant in 2020 to update his security. The district had also doubled its spending on safety in the 2019-20 school year, spending $445,000, though the budget documents don’t specify how the money was spent.

A school spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the school’s safety plan.

After the shooting, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) sought to blame the Uvalde shooting on the outside door being unlocked, and argued that schools should only have one entrance — one proposal immediately dismissed as impractical by many schools. officials.

“You mean how we could have prevented the horror that unfolded across the street?” Cruz said on Wednesday in Uvalde. “Look, the killer got in here the same way the killer got in Santa Fe: through a back door, an unlocked door.”

Kenneth S. Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, said when he conducted a security assessment at a school, he often found exterior doors unlocked. It is a general slippage but which almost never has serious consequences. And when it comes to classroom doors, it may be impossible to keep them closed, with students coming in and out all day, he said.

“One of the most common complaints we get from administrators who hire us and bring us in is that they find it difficult in their own environment to deal with people who open doors,” Trump said.

As bullets ricocheted around him, a Texas student found safety in silence

But it can be a simple yet effective tool to minimize the damage a school shooter can inflict. In shootings at schools where the killing is indiscriminate, Trump said shooters often walked past closed and locked classrooms.

In the fall of 2017, an elementary school in Northern California closed when staff heard gunshots. A man armed with an AR-15 type rifle fired through the doors and tried unsuccessfully to open several classroom doors. He was thwarted and left school before committing suicide. Still, Superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick called for “reasonable gun control.”

“We are largely helpless against determined shooters with high-capacity, high-velocity semi-automatic assault rifles,” he said in a 2018 investigation into school shootings by The Washington Post.

Securing school buildings and classrooms doesn’t do much for students in the classroom or outside of schools, and it doesn’t help when the threat comes from within – from students arriving at school. school with guns. It also leaves students stranded in hallways. And in some schools, classroom doors aren’t locked or have to be left open to cool rooms that aren’t air-conditioned. According to federal data, about 40% of schools had no locks on classroom doors in the 2019-20 school year.

Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University, published an article in 2019 with a colleague who reviewed research on efforts to prevent school shootings. Their investigation “did not find any programs or practices with evidence that they were reducing such gun violence.”

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Khubchandani said that without meaningful gun control, the cycle of violence, horror and security spending is unlikely to change.

“It will be an endless cycle of resource consumption by schools having more and more physical engineering because you have more weapons than people now,” Khubchandani said. “Where does it stop?”