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Uvalde school board to consider firing district police chief

Aug 24, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 9:05 am
FILE: A sign surrounded in gifts is seen at a memorial in front of Robb Elementary School on June 1...
FILE: A sign surrounded in gifts is seen at a memorial in front of Robb Elementary School on June 17, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. Committees have begun inviting testimony from law enforcement authorities, family members and witnesses regarding the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School which killed 19 children and two adults. Because of the quasi-judicial nature of the committee's investigation and pursuant to House, Section 12, witnesses will be examined in executive session. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Uvalde’s embattled school police chief on Wednesday could become the first officer to lose his job over the hesitant response by hundreds of heavily armed law enforcement personnel during the May massacre at Robb Elementary School.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District was set to make a decision on Pete Arredondo’s future, three months to the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in one of the deadliest classroom attacks in U.S. history.

The meeting comes less than two weeks before the new school year begins in Uvalde.

Arredondo, who has been on administrative leave since June, has come under the most scrutiny for his actions during the May 24 tragedy. State police and a damning investigative report in July have criticized the police chief of the roughly 4,000-student school district for failing to take charge of the scene, not breaching the classroom sooner and wasting time by looking for a key to a likely unlocked door.

Ninety days after the massacre, the absence of any firings have frustrated many Uvalde residents and amplified demands for accountability. Investigations and body camera footage have laid bare how police rushed to the scene with bulletproof shields and high-powered rifles within minutes — but waited more than an hour before finally confronting the gunman in a classroom of fourth-graders.

An attorney for Arredondo did not respond to an email Tuesday.

Uvalde school officials have been under mounting pressure from victims’ families and members of the community, many of whom have called for Arredondo’s termination. Superintendent Hal Harrell had first moved to fire Arredondo in July but postponed the decision at the request of the police chief’s attorney.

Only one other police official at the scene, Uvalde police Lt. Mariano Pargas, is known to have been placed on leave since the shooting. Pargas was the city’s acting police chief during the massacre.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which had more than 90 state troopers at the scene, has also launched an internal investigation into the response by state police.

School officials have said the campus at Robb Elementary will no longer be used. Instead, campuses elsewhere in Uvalde will serve as temporary classrooms for elementary school students, not all of whom are willing to return to school in-person following the shooting.

School officials say a virtual academy will be offered for students. The district has not said how many students will attend virtually, but a new state law passed last year in Texas following the pandemic limits the number of eligible students receiving remote instruction to “10% of all enrolled students within a given school system.”

Schools can seek a waiver to exceed the limit but Uvalde has not done so, according to Melissa Holmes, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

New measures to improve school safety in Uvalde include “8-foot, non-scalable perimeter fencing” at elementary, middle and high school campuses, according to the school district. Officials say they have also installed additional security cameras, upgraded locks, enhanced training for district staff and improving communication.

However, according to the district’s own progress reports, as of Tuesday no fencing had been erected at six of the eight campuses where it was planned, and cameras had only been installed at the high school. Some progress had been made on locks at three of eight campuses, and communication improvement was marked as half complete for each campus.

Uvalde CISD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Uvalde school board to consider firing district police chief