JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
One day at a time: That’s how many people we’ve talked to in Uvalde, Texas, who are living right now. It’s been a little over three months since 21 people were killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary at the end of last school year. In a few days, many families will be sending their children back to Uvalde public schools. Others have felt that they have had to choose between the best educational options for their children and their safety. At a recent community meeting, a local organizer left parents this message.
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ROY GUERRERO-JARAMILLO: If you don’t think your child is safe going to school in the fall, then don’t send them.
SUMMERS: Some people in that room nodded their heads. One of them was Tina Quintanilla-Taylor. She invited me, along with producers Jonaki Mehta and Alejandra Márquez Janse, to her house.
JONAKI MEHTA, BYLINE: Hi.
ALEJANDRA MARQUEZ JANSE, BYLINE: Hi.
WINSTON TAYLOR: Hello.
META: How are you?
WINSTON: Tina’s here.
TINA QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: Tina’s here.
SUMMERS: Tina’s 6-year-old son Winston greeted us at the door and was excited to introduce us to the family pets.
WINSTON: And we have two baby kittens and a big fat cat.
SUMMERS: As we speak, cats, a puppy, and a large brown dog named Gypsy roam the house. And Tina was picking her way through a large stack of papers on the coffee table.
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: Actually, today I’m looking for alternative education for Winston. He’s hard to find because he gets services like speech therapy and occupational therapy. So this would be something he would have to pay for.
SUMMERS: Tina is still deciding where to send Winston, but her decision was clearer for her daughter, who went to Robb last year. She’s not going back to class in person.
ROSE TAYLOR FLOURS: My name is Rose Taylor Flours. I am 9 years old and in fourth grade.
SUMMERS: And you just started school for the year, right?
SUMMER: Tell us about it. How’s it going?
FLOUR: It’s going pretty well. I only started school two days.
SUMMERS: Hours before the shooting last spring, Tina and Mehle had gone to a school awards ceremony. They were in the parking lot together when Robb locked himself out. They both made it out safely, but Mehle lost some friends that day, which her mother mentioned during our conversation.
HARINA: Oh, Rojelio Torres, he was on my bus and he loved Pokémon.
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: Do you want to show them the drawing?
QUINTANILLA TAYLOR: After the shoot, he started drawing.
FLOUR: I do my best.
SUMMER: It’s beautiful.
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: That’s how you describe Rojelio. How does he hear?
FLOUR: I was very happy. And we were best friends.
SUMMERS: Mehle doesn’t feel safe going to school in person, at least not right now.
Do you think you want to go back to school in a classroom one day?
FLOUR: I don’t know.
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: Do you think it’s safe for your friends to go to school?
SUMMER: This year, Mehle is enrolled in a homeschool program called K12. She has a virtual component in the mornings and self-directed study the rest of the day.
What’s it like trying to go to school with your brother at home, running around with the dogs?
FLOUR: Normally she’s in her room or my mom’s.
SUMMERS: Do you like your teacher?
HARINA: Yes. She is a very nice teacher.
SUMMERS: What kinds of things do you all talk about?
FLOUR: We’re going to do activities, and we’re talking about science.
SUMMERS: Almost everyone we talked to in Uvalde shared their concerns about the safety and security of the school. The school district has begun implementing new security measures, including fencing around each public school, adding security cameras and bringing 33 Texas State Troopers to school campuses. Tina Quintanilla-Taylor wants more than that.
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: For my children to feel safe and for our voices to be heard, I feel like it’s safe to say that we need a school and we need it now, like the day after the shooting, before the shooting.
SUMMERS: Robb Elementary has been closed since the shooting. The district plans to tear it down and build a new campus. So families in Uvalde have been left wondering whether to do some kind of home learning or send their children back to the classroom.
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: The only problem with virtual learning through the school district is that we had it available during COVID. My children did not learn anything. So they’re already way behind. And then this shooting happened.
SUMMERS: It seems like it’s really complicated for kids in this community; trauma upon trauma, these years lost to COVID and then losing his friends in a mass shooting.
QUINTANILLA TAYLOR: Yes, ma’am. It has been very difficult. Recovery is also painful, just trying to get back to everyday life. She hasn’t been the same since the shooting happened. It’s like I’ve grown up.
SUMMERS: You said your son told you the other day that he wants to leave.
QUINTANILLA TAYLOR: Yeah. So Winston told me the other day that he wanted to run away so he could go to a different school. I mean, sometimes you feel like you want to pick up and go yourself, but where do you go? And then our roots were placed here. It has been very difficult. So yes, at the beginning of all this, we talked about division in the community. Do you think we’re divided now? We are probably more divided than ever.
SUMMERS: Do you think that divide can ever be healed?
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: No. No. So many families had families in leadership positions or in law enforcement positions that they also lost part of their family. So the separation and division will never heal. There will always be a separation.
YURI DELUNA: I think a lot has changed. Uvalde is sad. Uvalde has never been like this.
SUMMERS: That’s Yuri DeLuna. She is homeschooling her two children, at least for this school year.
DELUNA: Everyone has different opinions and everything, but everyone fights for a different reason. I feel that the situation is separating us, dividing us.
SUMMERS: Emmanuel, 12, and Elloyd, 11, went to Flores Elementary School last year, so they weren’t at Robb’s when the shooting happened. But Elloyd had Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles as fourth-grade teachers when she attended Robb. They were the two teachers killed on May 24, and Yuri says that Elloyd has changed.
DELUNA: As you can see, I have an air mattress. He is afraid of windows. So her bed is high, so she won’t sleep in her room. She thinks she’s going to get shot, so she sleeps on the floor on the air mattress.
SUMMERS: And that seems to help.
DELUNA: It has its days.
SUMMERS: Some days, Elloyd covers the windows of his house with blankets.
DELUNA: I don’t know why. I don’t know how a blanket is going to protect the bullet. But, you know, it’s whatever makes him feel comfortable.
SUMMERS: Yuri quit her job to help educate her children. She used to run an ice cream stand and a restaurant.
DELUNA: We have always been a two-income family. It was a bit rocky, and my husband decided to put in other applications. Fortunately, he found a better paying job.
SUMMERS: At first, Yuri was worried about taking her children out of the classroom. He didn’t want them to miss out on social interaction and they both have learning disabilities, so she was worried about missing out on individualized services at school. But now that she has started the homeschool program, she feels better about things.
DELUNA: I think we can manage. The caseworker that Elloyd had was amazing. She offered us additional advice if the children needed advice. They opened their arms to us. You know, I feel really, really good about it.
SUMMERS: After his homeschool day was over, we went to Emmanuel’s room to say hello to the boys.
ELLOYD DELUNA: So many people.
SUMMER: So many people. I know. I know. I am sorry. How are you? I am Juana
Elloyd was sitting in the middle of his brother’s bed, hunched over a laptop. Emmanuel was sitting at his desk. It’s a true gamer’s bedroom. There’s a big flat screen TV in the corner, Animal Crossing curtains, a Super Mario bedspread. We all had some questions for them.
MEHTA: Do they get along pretty well?
ELLOYD: It depends on what we – it’s like, if one of us is in a bad mood, one of us is really hyper.
MEHTA: And you? What do you think, Emmanuel?
EMMANUEL DELUNA: It depends – it depends if I sleep well.
SUMMERS: We just wanted to talk to you a little bit about how the new school year is going. I know you’ve only been two days.
ELLOYD: Pretty good. It’s like… it’s really fun because I only talk to other people who seem nice, and the teachers are really nice. We just do really fun activities.
SUMMERS: Do you like this better than going to school in the classroom so far?
ELLOYD: Yes, because there are no lockdowns.
EMMANUEL: And I really like it because you can be in your room and, you know, you can choose what you want to eat.
JANSE: I guess mom’s food is better than school food?
EMMANUEL: Yes, very much.
SUMMERS: What are you most looking forward to this year?
ELLOYD: Learning to… science, basically making little explosions.
SUMMERS: Yuri said that even though the homeschool program has been supportive, he wants this to be temporary.
DELUNA: I sincerely want them to come back. I want them to be social. I want them to experience everything I had, you know?
SUMMERS: Were there things you would like to see or hear from the school district that would make you feel more confident in their abilities to educate your children while keeping them safe while they are at school?
DELUNA: Right now, at this moment, nothing you say would help anything. They are actions. They need to do what they need to do and protect our children.
SUMMERS: Back at the Quintanilla-Taylor house, Tina is having similar conversations with her daughter, Mehle.
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: What do you want to do, flours? What changes do you want to make to keep the rest of your friends safe?
MEHLE: To, for example, make the school safer with more protection and fences where nobody can climb them. They have barbed wire. And then the doors would close automatically.
SUMMERS: For now, Yuri and Tina’s greatest hopes for their children are simple: a safe and comfortable school year with moments of fun and normalcy…
QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: Mehle, what is that?
SUMMERS: …whenever possible.
QUINTANILLA TAYLOR: No, I think it’s your brother. Can you ask him to turn that down? Thank Mrs.
SUMMERS: Tomorrow, we will hear from a teacher in Uvalde who is returning to the classroom this year after surviving the shooting.
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