schools

Uvalde school district starts search for new superintendent

Hal Harrell worked for Uvalde CISD for more than 30 years, and his father was the district’s superintendent before him.

Camille Phillips / TPR
Hal Harrell at a press conference in June 2022.

Hal Harrell, the superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, was greeted by a crowd of supporters outside the board meeting held to discuss his retirement on Monday evening. They cheered, clapped and chanted his last name as he walked by.

Inside the board room, family members of the 19 children and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary in May lamented that they couldn't get that same level of support when they were calling for accountability for the actions and inactions that led to worst school shooting in Texas history.

"Twenty-one brutally murdered teachers and students wasn’t enough to outrage our Uvalde strong community, but your retirement is," said Berlinda Arreola, who lost her granddaughter Amerie Jo Garza in the shooting. "You are very blessed, Dr. Harrell."

Instead, the family members said they were blamed for Harrell's retirement.

"How dare you decide now — when a job is at stake — to come together, but you stayed home as we, the families, have been demanding transparency and accountability," said Kimberly Rubio, the mother of Lexi Rubio.

She added: "For the individuals who spent the weekend bashing 21 grieving families: Go home and hug your kids and be glad that you can. Because I’ll be at the cemetery, because that’s the closest I can get to my baby."

Harrell notified staff on Friday that he was planning to retire. That was the same day Uvalde CISD announced it was suspending the school district's police department.

Rubio said that Harrell was her youth basketball coach and principal and that she had never asked for him to retire.

 

"Hal Harrell reached the decision to retire on his own, and I respect that even though I personally emailed several board members back in July to say that I was not in favor of that," Rubio said. "But that’s Hal: always putting the students first."

 

Family members of victims of the shooting had protested outside the district's administrative office for days before the district suspended the school police department on Friday. They called for the school police officers employed by the district at the time of the shooting to be suspended until an investigation into their actions that day could be completed.

 

After the district announced the temporary suspension of the police department on Friday, Brett Cross, who had camped out outside the administrative office for more than a week, went home.

 

"Several weeks ago, you were reviewed by the school board and found to be not at fault for the May 24th massacre. And we all accepted that and just asked that you fix what was broken," said Berlina Arreola, the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, Monday evening.

 

"Although your retirement announcement has come as a shock, some of us understand why you feel the need to step down," Arreola said, speaking directly to Harrell. "You trusted your staff and they failed you. They failed you this time. But like a good captain that goes down with his ship, you feel it’s best."

 

Two days before Harrell announced he was retiring, a CNN investigation revealed that Crimson Elizondo, one of Uvalde CISD's new school police officers, was a former state trooper who responded to the shooting at Robb Elementary within the first few minutes.

 

Hundreds of law enforcement officers responded from multiple agencies responded to the shooting. They waited more than an hour to confront the gunman holed up in joined classroom full of victims and survivors.

 

According to documents provided to CNN, the Texas Department of Public Safety sent a letter to Uvalde CISD's acting police chief on July 28 notifying him that Elizondo was under internal investigation for "actions not consistent with training." Uvalde CISD hired her anyway.

 

uvalde superintendent screen shot facebook
A screenshot of a public post on Hal Harrell’s wife’s Facebook page. It has since been deleted or made private.

 

In a message posted on his wife's Facebook page Sunday night, Harrell said his retirement was "completely" his choice and that he would remain superintendent "throughout the year until a new superintendent can be named."

 

"Uvalde's success is not based on one person, but on the efforts, dedication and love of so many," he said. "I grew up watching others set the stage and examples that students in the community needed to guide them."

 

The Facebook post has now been deleted.

 

Harrell worked for Uvalde CISD for more than 30 years, and his father was the district's superintendent before him.

 

Uvalde's school board went into closed session for about an hour to discuss the Harrell's retirement. When they reconvened in open session, trustees voted to hire the Walsh Gallegos law firm to conduct a search for a new superintendent, then moved to the next agenda item without any further discussion or comment.

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