UVALDE – A joint committee hearing between the state House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee, and the Youth Health and Safety Select committee heard testimony about where weak spots in school safety still exist.
The hearing began with a Uvalde High School student who lost her sister in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary.
“I shouldn’t have to be here right now. I should be home watching a movie with my sister,” said Jazmin Cazares.
Cazares’s 9-year-old sister Jacklyn was killed during the May 24 attack.
“I’m here begging for you guys to do something or change something because the people that were supposed to keep her safe at school didn’t. They failed,” Cazares told lawmakers.
Cazares remained poised as she explained to members of the committees how Uvalde CISD’s own security measures weren’t enough, including perimeter fencing around Robb Elementary.
“It didn’t work. It’s a four-foot fence,” said Cazares. “Fences like that keep animals out, not grown men with AR-15s.”
Cazares also questioned why the CISD’s security plan called for staff to regularly patrol entry and exit doors and parking lots on secondary campuses, but not elementary schools.
“Why only the secondary campuses? Why not my sister’s elementary school?” Cazares asked.
Six police chiefs from urban and rural departments told lawmakers more mandated active shooter training is needed for law enforcement across the state.
San Marcos police chief Stan Standridge said one 8-hour course is not enough.
“We all know that these skills are very perishable, they must be topical, but it must be recurring,” said Standridge.
Standridge also called on lawmakers to make it mandatory for 16 hours of ALERRT Center Level 1 active shooter training to be included in basic peace officer training. Standridge said the active shooter training currently provided at this level is a “high-level overview” with “zero practical application.”
“Consequently, there’s no consistency across the state of Texas as to how officers will respond to an active attack,” said Standridge.
The chiefs also called on lawmakers to create a central repository for threat assessments done on students exhibiting concerning behavior. Standridge said those reports don’t follow a student who leaves a district.
“Currently, that does not travel with the student to the potential safety demise of everybody at that new campus,” said Standridge.
Threat assessments and multi-hazard plans became mandatory after the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School. However, many parents and relatives of those killed or injured during the 2018 attack are angry those mandates came with no teeth and are redoubling their efforts to hold lawmakers accountable.
“We thought they were mandates,” said Scot Rice, whose wife, Flo, was critically injured during the shooting. “We feel like the wool was pulled over our eyes because we were promised this would make a big difference, but Uvalde proves it didn’t.”
Democratic State Sen. Roland Gutierrez said in order to address changes in security, there has to be a full account of how all law enforcement officers responded to the Robb Elementary School shooting, not just school district police chief Pete Arredondo and other local officers.
Arredondo and several other city and school district officers were on the scene within three minutes of the shooter entering the school. Yet, it took more than an hour to stop his rampage. Arredondo has faced withering criticism for not taking command of the response since he was the ranking officer. Arredondo has previously stated he did not consider himself the incident commander even though the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, said he was the incident commander.
“There were communication errors, there were system errors, there were protocol errors, there were human errors, clearly,” said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez points out numerous state troopers were also on the scene, and he is suing DPS to obtain information on how those troopers folded into the response once reaching the school. Gutierrez points out there was no joint training between DPS and local police on how to respond to an active shooter and testimony was given during a Senate hearing that none of the officer’s or trooper’s radios worked inside the building.
“I’m not casting blame on them. I want to be very clear on that. We need to find out what truly happened here so that we can learn from it,” said Gutierrez. “All of the things we’ve been talking about can’t truly be fleshed out until we have all the information.”