As the small Texas town of Uvalde struggles to heal after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school, thoughts have also turned to securing its legacy as a centerpiece of the fight. for educational equality for Mexican Americans more than half a century ago. on.
In 1970, there was a six-week student strike 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. The students’ demands included a bilingual curriculum and the hiring of more Mexican American teachers, but the school board refused to budge. A resulting class action lawsuit alleging discrimination against Hispanic students resulted in a desegregation ordinance being put in place in the district in a case that took decades to resolve.
Now, some Hispanic leaders in Uvalde fear upward mobility through education here could be another casualty of the May 24 shooting if students fear returning to school.
“I keep thinking about education,” said Ronnie Garza, who is the son of George Garza and a county commissioner who represents the Uvalde area which includes Robb Elementary. “I feel sorry for the children. How will they feel on the first day of school? I keep thinking about teachers. Will they want to go back to school?
More than an hour passed between when the first officers followed the 18-year-old gunman into the building and when he was killed, according to an official timeline. Meanwhile, parents outside begged the police to rush in, and panicked children called 911 from inside.
Texas Department of Public Safety Chief Steven McCraw said School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was in charge of the multi-agency response, made the “bad decision” not to order the officers into the classroom. faster to confront and kill the shooter.
Arredondo did not respond to repeated interview requests and questions from The Associated Press.
At a sometimes contentious press conference on Thursday, Uvalde School District officials said they would not answer any questions about the investigation or staffing issues, even though parents raised safety concerns. . When Superintendent Hal Harrell was asked if he still trusted school district police chief Pete Arredondo, he replied, “It’s staff.”
Harrell said the district will hire more police in the fall and there are ongoing discussions about what will happen to the site where the school is located.
“We will not be returning to this campus in any form,” Harrell said.
Uvalde County Justice of the Peace Lalo Diaz, who helped identify the bodies of those killed at the school he himself attended, said demolition would be the right thing to do.
“It’s going to be tough for anyone to get in there,” Diaz said.
Following mass shootings at schools across the country, communities have struggled to figure out what to do with the buildings. In Newtown, Connecticut, voters authorized the demolition of the Sandy Hook Elementary School building where 26 students and teachers were killed in 2012 and the construction of a new school. In Colorado, Columbine High School, where 13 people were killed in a 1999 attack, is still standing.
On the now-closed Robb Elementary campus, some of the pecan trees planted by George Garza still provide shade. Garza had also raised money for a basketball court and running track at school.
Alfredo Rodriguez Santos was a 17-year-old high school student in Uvalde in 1970 when he decided to take part in the outing. Santos said the inequality in the city was something that had already seeped into his consciousness.
“We felt things weren’t right, but we weren’t able to articulate them,” said Santos, who had wondered why the roads were better in one part of the city than the other and why Mexican American students were not encouraged to go to college.
“We knew something was wrong because a lot of children were dropping out of school. Few kids were going to college,” said Santos, who now lives in Austin and is a bilingual newspaper publisher.
Monica Muñoz Martinez, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin who grew up in Uvalde and attended Robb Elementary in the 1990s, said both of her parents participated in the walk when they were in high school.
Martinez’s mother had to translate so her own Spanish-speaking mother could understand school meetings and assemblies that were held only in English.
“It’s one of his memories of Robb sitting in the doorway trying to listen through the crack to give his mom a glimpse when she walked out of the meeting,” Martinez said.
Uvalde “stands out” from other marches that took place at that time, Martinez said, because the school board decided not to respond to any of the requests from parents and students.
“The leaders of Uvalde at that time … were sending a strong signal that the racial order that existed there, they were determined to maintain it,” she said.
In 1970, Genoveva Morales filed a class action lawsuit against the school district alleging discrimination against Hispanic students. Eventually, a court found that segregation still existed, and the district was ordered to desegregate. A consent order was signed in 2008 and the lawsuit was finally resolved in 2017.
Martinez’s mother went on to work in the school district for 35 years, including as an administrator, and was a member of the school board when the college was named for Morales.
Parents of some of those killed at Robb Elementary and injured students have spoken out, including testifying in Congress this week as lawmakers work to reach a bipartisan agreement on gun safety measures.
“I hope the voices of the people of Uvalde calling for change, that this can be a catalyst to actually help save more lives, not just in Texas but across the country,” Martinez said.
Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting
Stengle reported from Dallas.