As Uvalde kids return to classrooms, these parents opt for other options: NPR

Elloyd, 11, left, and his brother Emanuel, 12, right, play online video games at his home in Uwald, Texas.

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Elloyd, 11, left, and his brother Emanuel, 12, right, play online video games at his home in Uwald, Texas.

Verónica G. Cárdenas of NPR

Today, when you walk through Yuri De Luna’s front door, the first thing you see is a blue air cushion against the wall at the entrance. This is for her 11-year-old son Eloyd.

“He was afraid of windows. His bed was high so he wouldn’t sleep in his room,” she said, citing his recent fears of a gunman attacking him while he was sleeping.

At times, Eloyd would cover the windows of their home with blankets. “I don’t know how a blanket protects [from] “A bullet,” Yuri said, with a sad laugh. “But, you know, it’s just whatever makes him comfortable.

Yuri said her son has changed since the shooting at Rob Elementary School in Uwald, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers in May. While Eloyd didn’t attend Robb last year, he’s been there in previous years.

This week, as in-person classes resume for the first time since the shooting, Yuri has opted to temporarily homeschool Eloyd and his 12-year-old brother Emanuel. And she’s not alone.

Uvalde resident and former local teacher-turned-mentor Deyanira Salazar said that while she saw her students show improved mood after the initial shock of the shooting, she wasn’t sure what would really prepare anyone for the new school year.

“I’ve heard from parents, from students, from teachers, and they’re not ready,” she said.

Deyanira Salazar, a former teacher, outside the Uwald Convention Center.

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Deyanira Salazar, a former teacher, outside the Uwald Convention Center.

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A makeshift memorial to the shooting stands in Uwald.

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A makeshift memorial to the shooting stands in Uwald.

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How to teach Uwald’s children after the mass shooting

At a recent community meeting in town led by a group called “Uvalde Strong for Gun Safety,” lively discussions buzzed about holding school districts accountable for safety, whether to send kids back to classrooms and gun control legislation. Local organizer and pediatrician Roy Guerrero-Jaramillo has neat advice for parents: “If you don’t think it’s safe for your child to go to school in the fall, don’t send them.”

Parent and organizer Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, who led the meeting, nodded in agreement as Guerrero-Jaramillo spoke. After getting to know someone who was able to build a new safety fence at a local school, she was convinced that the district wasn’t doing enough to inspire confidence in children going back to school.

Many of those interviewed by NPR at Uvalde supported the fences around public schools, hundreds of new security cameras, updated locks and other safety measures the district is implementing. But Tina wanted more. “For my children to feel safe and for our voices to be heard, I feel like it’s fair to say we need a school, and we need it now,” she said.

Robb Elementary School will eventually be demolished and a new school will be built, although the district has yet to set a timeline for those plans. But Tina points out that most of Uwald’s property taxes go to the school district — in her case, 43 percent of her property tax bill. “So I wanted to see where our money went over a long period of time,” she said.

Mehle R. Taylor and her mother, Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, at their home in Uwald.

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Mehle R. Taylor and her mother, Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, at their home in Uwald.

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Mehle R. Taylor and her brother Winston Taylor at their home in Uwald, Texas.

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Mehle R. Taylor and her brother Winston Taylor at their home in Uwald, Texas.

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Reservations for Homeschooling

In the days following that community meeting, Tina was in her living room bewildered by a pile of school forms, knowing she had to choose between the best educational options for her son and his safety.

“He’s on the autism spectrum. He has global developmental delay, sensory processing impairment, and is deaf in his left ear,” she said.

Some of the private schools Tina is considering for her 6-year-old Winston won’t provide the personalized service he needs – so she’ll have to pay for it out of her own pocket. But this year, her decision about how to get her 9-year-old daughter Mehle to school is clearer: By the end of August, she had started virtual classes through a homeschooling program.

At the end of a recent school day, Tina asked how her daughter was doing. “She said, ‘I love it. My classmates are cool, so are my teachers,'” Tina relayed, “but she misses her friends.”

Former Robb student Mehle also mourned some of his friends killed in the shooting, including Rojelio Torres. “He’s on my bus and he likes Pokémon,” she said, unfolding the picture she had drawn of him. “he [wore] This jacket is on the bus every day…and then he’ll wear this pair of shoes that matches his jacket,” she explained, pointing to the pattern she drew on Rojelio’s dress. “I tried my best, ‘ she said slowly, as she looked down at the painting.

Tina said she didn’t tell her daughter the horrific details of what happened to her friends at Rob, but Mailer understood that many of her friends were gone for good.

Mehle shows a painting she made for her friend Rojelio Torres.

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Mehle shows a painting she made for her friend Rojelio Torres.

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Photo of Rojelio Torres at the makeshift memorial.

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Photo of Rojelio Torres at the makeshift memorial.

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When asked if she wanted to eventually go back to school in person, Mailer said she wasn’t sure. As for her friends, Mailer said: “I would tell them not to go to school. Go online and homeschool like I did.”

Still, Tina has reservations about homeschooling. When her children were forced into virtual learning in the early years of the coronavirus pandemic, she said they had difficulty learning. “So they were already way behind, and then this shooting happened and it put them even further behind.”

The Financial Burden of Difficult Choices

A few miles away, on the west side of town, Yuri De Luna faced a similar dilemma.

Her son attended Flores Elementary School last school year, which also locked in the day of Rob’s shooting. Yuri said Eloyd, 11, is still distraught when he thinks of his former fourth-grade teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles — two teachers killed in the Holocaust — . Yuri recalled taking the boys to a toy car for surviving children, to which Eloyd responded: “It’s not going to bring my teachers back.”

Since then, however, Yuri said, the experience has also strengthened Eloyd’s long-standing dream of becoming a police officer — especially after learning of Rob’s widely criticized law enforcement response.

“He thought, ‘Now I really want to be a police officer. I want to do what they didn’t do,'” she said.

Yuri quit her job to help homeschool her son, who also uses the same K12 curriculum as Mehle Taylor. “We’ve always been a family of two incomes. It’s been a little difficult. My husband decided to make another application,” she said. “Fortunately, he found a better-paying job.”

The boys had to give up something as the family readjusted to their new financial situation. “My Emmanuel, he [sold] Hot wings make money. He made nachos and soda the week before…you know, to buy himself his game for the money,” Yuri said.

Yuri was also initially concerned that Emmanuel and Eloyd would lose personalized services at the school because they both have learning disabilities. She feels supported through the K12 program, but hopes they will eventually have access to in-person occupational therapy through the school district.

Yuri De Luna with her sons Emmanuel and Eloyd.

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Yuri De Luna with her sons Emmanuel and Eloyd.

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Yuri has been in close contact with her sons in the months following the shooting.

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Yuri has been in close contact with her sons in the months following the shooting.

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Right now, she says the district can’t do anything to make her feel safe enough to send her kids to school — an action she’d like to see. She hopes that Emmanuel and Eloyd will eventually return to the school campus. “I want them to be social. I want them to experience everything I have,” Yuri said.

The boys saw the bright side of homeschooling. They had just finished their second day of study and were hanging out in Emmanuel’s bedroom, both clicking on their computers. Eloyd said he prefers the current homeschooling arrangements to in-person schools because there are no lockdowns. He is looking forward to this year’s science experiments.

His brother Emanuel chimed in: “I really like it because you can be in your room and you can choose what you want to eat.” Namely, their mother’s home-cooked meal.

Currently, both families are in school, they go to school every day, and they make a new life change. Tina and Yuri’s hope for their children is simple: a normal, fun and safe school year.

Uwald is dealing with the trauma of that shooting and its lingering effects.

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Verónica G. Cárdenas of NPR

Uwald is dealing with the trauma of that shooting and its lingering effects.

Verónica G. Cárdenas of NPR

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