School is back in Uvalde, but it’s not at all the same

The old Robb Elementary building will be demolished, but its students are heading on to new classrooms.

State trooper places a tiara on a cross honoring Ellie Garcia, one of the victims killed in this wee...
Jae C Hong/AP/Shutterstock

In May, the killing of 21 people, including 19 children, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas left the nation reeling. But while the world stopped for many families that day, time never did. Summer is over and, now, those kids who survived the mass shooting attack are expected to go back to school. A new CNN report illustrates the heartache for Uvalde’s surviving children.

The Uvalde shooting is the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. In June, officials announced that Robb Elementary will be demolished and rebuilt. Per NPR, Hal Harrell, the superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, said, “We will never forget those who were senselessly taken from us on that tragic day, and we want to honor their legacy as we work to build our future.”

With Robb Elementary’s closure, surviving students have spread out. CNN reported that children who were first graders at Robb last year will begin second grade at Dalton Elementary. Meanwhile, second and third graders from Robb last year will go to the new Uvalde Elementary. Some students, however, have moved out of the district entirely, or opted for remote learning.

Adam Martinez, whose son, Zayon, was in second grade when the shooting occurred, told CNN that his son and daughter chose remote learning. “They were afraid that if it happened again, they weren’t going to be protected,” he said. “There's no fencing at the junior high where my daughter would be going. There’s no way that I’m gonna convince her to go when there’s no fencing.”

But it’s not only students who are struggling. Elsa Avila, who taught fourth grade at Robb Elementary, isn’t returning to teaching this year. Although the gunman never entered her classroom, Avila was shot in the abdomen. She told ABC News, “I was in so much pain. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk." Although her students were terrified, they tried to comfort their teacher. Avila said they told her, “It’s going to be okay. ... We love you.’"

For some students, there’s a lingering sense of distrust. Martinez told CNN that he tried talking to his son, saying, “They’re gonna have more cops. They’re gonna have higher fencing.’’ But Martinez said that Zayon told him, “It doesn’t matter. They’re not gonna protect us.”

Zayon’s feelings aren’t unfounded. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, it became clear that law enforcement did everything wrong in their response. Most damningly: Police waited over 70 minutes before entering the two classrooms the shooter had targeted.

So it’s understandable that as parents drop off their kids today, they’re also battling their own emotions. Jala Washington, a reporter with Texas’s KXAN News, spoke to one parent, Melissa Hernandez, who said she and her son were feeling “nervous, a little ... but we got this.”

To help students, teachers, and staff returning to schools, comfort dogs will be around for the next three weeks. Per local outlet, the district invited 10 teams of comfort dogs from 11 different states to the city. The pups will be on eight different school campuses.

On Monday, Lutheran Church Charities K-9 teams went to Uvalde’s town square and placed crosses for each of the victims from May’s shooting. Debra Baran, director of communications and media relations, told Uvalde Leader-News, “Some of the handlers helped parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles whose tears quietly flowed as they tried to find their child’s cross.”

“To be with the grieving was what was needed at that moment,” Baran added.