This Monday, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo testified at a special Congressional listening session in Uvalde hosted by Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro. Jackson Lee, founder and chair of the Congressional Children’s Caucus, called for the listening session to “heighten the urgency of protecting our children and healing our communities” in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting, which claimed the lives of 19 elementary school children and two educators.
The session focused on the testimony of a panel of the victim’s family members and survivors of the Uvalde shooting. Survivors of the shooting told stories of hearing the voices of students calling out for help, and parents of victims told stories of them begging police officers to intervene. Despite their pleas, the local law enforcement officials who were on the scene during the shooting did not confront the shooter for an hour and 15 minutes.
Members of the panel lamented the inaction by the state legislature in the wake of this tragedy. Brett Cross, the guardian of Uziyah Garcia, a victim of the shooting said, “How many more damn kids need to die before the government does something.”
President Capo shared with the committee the perspectives of the educators that he has talked to and the ones Texas AFT has surveyed: they don’t feel safe and they are worried that they will be the next victims.
Along with sharing the concerns of educators, Capo also raised concerns about the mental wellbeing of our children. “As a social studies teacher, I understand that the freedoms in our constitution often come with sacrifices, but our children deserve the freedom to go to school without the fear of gun violence,” Capo testified.
Capo called for stricter gun laws and for greater access to mental health resources in public schools. Capo also called for a better distribution system for funds collected to benefit the families of victims. Several family members of victims testified that they were having difficulties accessing funds collected by the state and federal governments. For that reason, Capo stated that Texas AFT is working to distribute Texas AFT’s disaster relief funds directly to victims’ families instead of donating them to the ineffective official fund.
Lorena Auguste, a Texas AFT member and former Uvalde CISD teacher also testified at the session about her experience with the district. Auguste worked summers as a fine arts instructor and costume designer for school productions put on by UCISD, where she worked with and mentored many of the victims of the Uvalde massacre. During the shooting, Auguste was working at a High School in Uvalde where she heard a SWAT team being deployed after her classroom had been on lockdown for four hours.
Auguste said, “My niece is a survivor from Robb. She is alive today because of her teacher who was six months pregnant when she escorted them out the exit of the cafeteria because they heard ongoing gunshots, and a lady across the street opened up her house to take in the whole entire class. My niece is not alive because of a police officer; my niece is alive because of her teacher.”
State Senator Roland Gutierrez also testified at the session. Sen. Gutierrez similarly lamented the fact that funds intended to help the victims family members, specifically unemployment funds for family members who are unable to return to their jobs, were not being properly distributed by the Attorney General.
Gutierrez also slammed the lack of transparency from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) in response to criticism about how law enforcement handled the shooting. Sen. Gutierrez said, “Here we have a Department of Public Safety that has done nothing more than dole out misinformation, have a blame game that blamed number one the school police chief, then a school teacher for putting a rock on a door which she never did… For 10 days she had to put up with people blaming her for the loss of these children.”
The entire three-hour hearing was posted on youtube.