Uvalde district fails key security test more than six months after 21 killed in elementary school

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(UVALDE, Texas) — An undercover inspector posing as an intruder was able to access a school cafeteria during a December security audit in Uvalde, Texas, the school district’s superintendent revealed Monday evening.

Student safety wasn’t jeopardized, interim superintendent Gary Patterson told a surprised school board during its meeting. But the news served as a shocking reminder of what occurred at Robb Elementary School on May 24, when a shooter entered through a door that was supposed to be locked and killed 19 students and two teachers.

The auditors tested three schools in Uvalde, one of which was accessed through an exterior door with a faulty latch near the school’s loading dock, Patterson said. The specific school was not identified.

The inspector noticed that the door did not latch closed unless the door was slammed, according to the audit. A delivery was in progress during the audit, and they were able to slip in the faulty door as it was left ajar. The fake intruder made it to the cafeteria, which was empty, before being stopped and questioned by school staff members.

“That is 100% my responsibility to see that that doesn’t happen,” Patterson said. “The delivery of goods and to loading docks was quite frankly something I overlooked, but I won’t overlook it next time.”

The other two schools that were part of the audit passed, with 100% of their exterior doors locked, according to Patterson. The interim superintendent said they plan to have an additional security training day for teachers and staff the day before school restarts in January.

The audit was part of a program started in October by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to randomly test Texas schools’ fortitude against outside threats, something prompted by the Robb shooting. The tests are being conducted statewide by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University, with hundreds already completed.

In the more than six months since the Uvalde massacre, the school district has spent millions of dollars adding additional security measures. They have spent or plan to spend almost $5 million combined on stronger fencing, auto-locking doors, security cameras and additional patrols.

Patterson also detailed his plans to increase security at Uvalde schools, including rebuilding the school police department. All of the department’s officers were put on suspension in October. Josh Gutierrez was hired in late November as the new school police chief, replacing Pete Arredondo, the chief on the day of the shooting who was fired in August amid criticism of his response during the shooting.

Gutierrez spoke Monday for the first time about his plans to rebuild the force. He told San Antonio ABC affiliate KSAT-TV that he’s in the process of vetting officer applicants, conducting interviews and doing deep background checks.

“I have the ability to come out here and help the community heal, help our community heal, and the ability to reestablish a good foundation for our police department,” Gutierrez told KSAT.

Going into this school year, parents expressed concerns over the safety of the Uvalde schools during summer school board meetings. Some families elected to switch to private school, home school or remote learning as an alternative.

At Monday’s meeting, Patterson said that efforts to install new, upgraded doors and security gates have been hampered by supply chain issues and a lack of materials. The high school and junior high school are still waiting to get auto-locking doors. They have already been installed at the elementary schools.

“All the supply chain, equipment shortages, personnel shortages are working against us,” Patterson said. “But we are making good progress.”

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