Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
The school board for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District on Monday signed off on the retirement of Superintendent Hal Harrell, adding him to a growing list of local officials who have left their posts in the aftermath of the school shooting at Robb Elementary School earlier this year.
After meeting in a closed session for more than an hour, the school board unanimously approved a motion to conduct a superintendent search.
The school district announced Harrell’s impending retirement in a staff memo on Friday. And in a Facebook post relayed on his wife’s account Sunday evening, Harrell said his decision to leave the district after 31 years in education was “not made lightly and was made after much prayer and discernment.”
Harrell will continue in his post until a new superintendent can be chosen, he said in the post.
Harrell’s announcement was met with mixed reactions from parents and activists. A crowd of Harrell’s supporters gathered outside the district administrative building Monday evening, dressed in the district’s colors, maroon and white, many holding signs thanking Harrell for his service.
Others have been calling for Harrell’s removal for months, saying he should be held responsible for the district’s failure to adequately prepare for school shootings. In emotional public testimony during the Monday meeting, several community members and victims’ family members called out Harrell, saying he failed to show leadership in the weeks after the shooting.
“You had an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and change,” said Marissa Lozano, whose sister Irma Garcia was one of the teachers killed in the shooting and whose brother-in-law Joe Garcia died suddenly two days later. “Instead you’ve decided to cower and refuse to hold anybody accountable.”
Last week — hours before the superintendent’s retirement was announced — school officials suspended all activities of the district’s police department.
“Recent developments have uncovered additional concerns with department operations,” a district press release said. Lt. Miguel Hernandez, acting district police chief, and director of student services Ken Mueller were placed on leave. Other officers employed with the department will fill other roles in the district, according to a press release. Mueller decided to retire, the release said.
The release did not detail why those officials were placed on leave, and emails to the district spokesperson went unanswered.
Included on Monday’s school board meeting agenda were “deliberations concerning suspensions and terminations.” After the closed-door session, the school board did not announce any suspensions or terminations.
For the previous 10 days, activists, including some family members of the children killed at Robb Elementary on May 24, camped outside the Uvalde CISD administrative building. The protesters demanded that the district suspend its police officers until investigations into the officers’ response to the deadly shooting were complete.
“I’m glad that they finally did what they should have done months ago,” said Ana Rodriguez, whose 10-year-old daughter, Maite Rodriguez, was killed in the shooting. “But why couldn’t it have been done earlier?”
The Texas Police Chiefs Association and JPPI Investigations, a private company hired by the Uvalde CISD, are still investigating the police officers’ response to the massacre.
In August, the district fired the head of the police department, Pete Arredondo, who was widely criticized for his response to the shooting, during which law enforcement took more than an hour before confronting the shooter, who was apparently in an unlocked classroom.
Earlier last week, school officials fired a recently hired district police officer, Crimson Elizondo, a former Texas Department of Public Safety officer who is among those under investigation for their response to the shooting, the deadliest in Texas history.
In body-camera footage from the day of the shooting published by CNN, Elizondo can be heard saying that she may not have stayed outside the school if her child were inside.
“If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside,” she said. “I promise you that.”