When the Texas House of Representatives published its report on the Uvalde school shooting, where 19 students and two teachers died on May 24, most of the attention focused on “systemic failures” of the 376 law enforcement officers who descended on the school.
Not given nearly as much attention was how the school district, from top administrators to classroom teachers, failed to follow training, district policy and common sense.
As students head back to school in the coming weeks, Central Minnesota educators should study the report to see how not following training and policies leads to tragedy.
The report cites a long list of failures.
The school’s 5-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’s police officers conducted walk-throughs, during which they would check for locked doors. When they found doors unlocked the officers would remind teachers to keep the doors locked, and in the event of repeat offenders, they would document the violations. A school officer told investigators when an officer was walking the floors and checking doors, the teachers would notify each other, and they would lock their doors
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.
Uvalde school district police officers commonly carried two radios: one for the school district, and another “police radio,” which transmitted communications from various local law enforcement agencies. While the school district radios tended to work reliably, the police radios worked more intermittently depending on where they were used.
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 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. Had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed the shooters progress for a few precious minutes.
The report’s chilling details describe a series of cascading failures by law enforcement and educators to follow training, policies and good judgment. Before school doors open in a few weeks, school and public safety leaders need to look for any “relaxed vigilance” that could contribute to tragedy here.