Despite an extensive school safety plan, the Texas shooter found loopholes

Robb Elementary School had measures in place to prevent this type of violence. A fence lined the school property. Teachers have been ordered to keep classroom doors closed and locked. The students were regularly confronted with containment and evacuation exercises.

But when an 18-year-old man arrived at the school in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, intent on killing children, none of that stopped him.

The security breaches allowed the shooter to massacre 19 students and two teachers, according to school security experts. The shooting has already led to calls to further fortify schools, in addition to millions spent on equipment and other measures following previous shootings. But more security comes with downsides, with no guarantee of ending mass violence. In the worst case, like in Uvalde, it could turn against us.

“You can do your best to prevent a school crisis, but we can’t read the minds of all the criminals out there,” said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit organization. non-profit that works with schools. Across the country. “We cannot prevent all crimes.”

Members of the media take photos of a school pass that was used at a press conference held outside Robb Elementary School Friday, May 27, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. Nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway outside classrooms during this week’s attack on a Texas elementary school for more than 45 minutes before officers used a master key to open a doorway and confront a gunman, authorities said Friday.

Wong Maye-E/AP

According to a district safety plan, schools in Uvalde had a wide range of measures in place to prevent violence. The district had four police officers and four support counselors, according to the plan, which appears to date from the 2019-20 school year. The district had software to monitor social media for threats and software to screen school visitors.

However, when the shooter arrived at the school, he jumped his fence and easily entered through a backdoor who had been held open, officials said. Behind the locked door of a fourth-grade classroom, he gunned down children and teachers.

Amid the attack, nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway because the on-scene commander believed the shooter was barricaded in the classroom and the children were not in danger, the department director said. of Texas Public Safety, Steven McCraw, at a press conference Friday. was the wrong decision.

The case underscores that even the strongest safety plans can be undermined by a seemingly simple lapse, said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which provides school safety training. The Texas school seemed to do a lot of things right, he said, but none of that mattered once the shooter was able to enter the building and a classroom unimpeded.

“All these things on paper mean nothing if they are not followed in practice. And there seemed to be a number of gaps,” he said.

What can be done?

In the aftermath of the shooting, some Republicans called for new investments in school security to prevent further attacks. Some have pushed for more armed police in schools, along with metal detectors and measures to make it harder to enter schools.

Among those promoting physical security measures is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, he discussed 2013 legislation that created grants to help schools install bulletproof doors and hire armed police, among other measures.

If those grants had gone to Robb Elementary, Cruz said, “the armed police could have gotten him out and we’d have 19 kids and two teachers still alive.”

Security experts say the Uvalde case illustrates how fortifying schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door – one of the most basic and recommended school security measures – kept victims out and the police out.

U.S. Border Patrol officers eventually used a master key to open the locked classroom door where they confronted and killed the shooter, McCraw said at Friday’s press conference.

Related: Students who survived Texas school attack describe the scene

Some argue that investments in school safety have come at the expense of student well-being. Containment exercises have become routine for a generation of American students traumatized the students and added to pressures on mental healthsay educators.

Schools need more counselors and psychologists to help struggling students, not stronger buildings, said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.

“We have systematically reduced the number of support staff in our schools and over-focused on installing metal detectors, surveillance cameras and electronic locks, which are very short term, reactive and very expensive” , did he declare.

Following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, schools across the country began spending huge amounts of money on fortifications, including bulletproof glass, metal detectors and armed security.

But such measures can create an atmosphere where students feel uncomfortable and less confident, and that doesn’t necessarily prevent attacks, said Matthew Mayer, an associate professor at Rutgers who works on violence-related issues. at school.

“You’re going to go down these kinds of endless rabbit holes about how good enough security it is. And when it comes to someone coming in heavily armed, you’re not going to stop them,” Mayer said. “So the idea is that you have to understand why people are doing this in the first place and have ways – multi-level prevention systems – to prevent that from happening.”

It advocates a multifaceted approach to prevention that also includes steps such as improving mental health services, more effective threat assessments, and building trust so students and families don’t are not afraid to speak up if they fear someone has the means or the intent to cause harm.

Still, schools can’t do much, he said, and he’s not optimistic that public outrage against Uvalde will lead to meaningful change.

“The problem is that a lot of this public backlash, you know, kind of rises like a wave and then recedes over time, and politicians are used to getting over that. You know, they give speeches and so on, and sometimes there’s a commission that’s appointed, and they release reports,” Mayer said. “But a substantial change is missing.”

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