After another tragic day in America's education system, educators across the nation are crafting explanations about the shooting at a Texas elementary school that resulted in the deaths of at least 19 children and two teachers.
Even as they articulate the sadness and confusion of another school shooting — there have been 77 previous incidents of gunfire on school grounds this year alone, resulting in 14 deaths and 45 injuries — education professionals and advocates are trying to process their own emotions and reactions.
"It breaks my heart to see senseless loss of life, especially loss of children and educators," said Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, Illinois, in an email. In an immediate effort to help its community, the district has sent resources to teachers for talking to children about violence.
From classrooms to school boardrooms to education advocates' offices to Capitol Hill, the words to acknowledge another mass school shooting are familiar yet unimaginable. It's been 23 years since 13 people were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; nearly 10 years since 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and four years since 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
"I will never forget the ripple effect of fear and heartbreak that spread among students and teachers in the aftermath of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, in a statement. Cardona was a school principal in Connecticut when the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting happened.
"We must unite as a country against this senseless cycle of violence, act immediately to protect our children, and make sure that every child and every educator feels safe in our schools," Cardona said.
Tuesday's shooting occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a grade 2-4 school of 535 students and 63 full-time staff members, according to state data and local officials. Robb Elementary is part of the nine-school Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District. The last day of school was scheduled for Thursday, but classes have been canceled for the rest of the year.
All of us at TEA join our fellow Texans in supporting and praying for the students, families, teachers, and staff of Robb Elementary School and the entire Uvalde community. (1/2)— Texas Education Agency (@teainfo) May 25, 2022
Curtis Culwell, executive director of the Texas School Alliance, a school district membership organization, said San Antonio, Texas, school districts are offering direct assistance to the Uvalde school system.
"The absolute horror of the attack has had a profound impact on the entire state," Culwell said in an email.
In the Premont Independent School District, which is about two hours from Uvalde, Superintendent Steve VanMatre said his school system has canceled deliveries and moved all events to a virtual setting.
"It's so sad because our parents and our family members and community, they're our partners," VanMatre said. "We want them to be a strong partner and be a part of the school, but for now, we're just going to have to, for lack of a better word, isolate ourselves."
New York's White Plains School District Superintendent Joseph Ricca said his district is taking steps to ensure staff and students feel secure on campuses through increased police presence. He's also making sure people feel connected and supported.
"These types of tragedies leave a hole in the fabric of communities and we need to make sure that we repair that hole," he said.
For some, there are more questions than answers.
“What are we telling our communities, parents, families and students when we can’t ensure their physical safety at school? How are we going to continue the important work of academic recovery and mental health supports in response to the pandemic when we can’t reasonably ensure the core need for physical safety?" asked Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
"What kind of message are we sending to the world, particularly the global education community, when we so consistently fail to protect our students? It begs the very fair question, ‘Is school safety on America’s short list of priorities?’ If not, why not?" Domenech said.
Still, others plea for solutions that may stop school shootings.
VanMatre said mental health professionals need to be in every school. There are outside agencies school communities can access for help, but having full-time staff who can form relationships with staff and students would be a more proactive approach, he said.
Ricca said he is making sure his voice is heard by talking with legislators about solutions to gun violence and school safety.
"No matter where in the country it happened, the impact and trauma associated with the murder of children in schools is profound. And, you know, as adults, we have a responsibility to do better," Ricca said.
In a statement, L. Earl Franks, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said, “The families at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, deserve to send their children to school with the security that they will return at the end of the day unharmed. That is the promise that every school makes to the students in its care. It’s up to the adults to make policies that reflect this value.”
Wendy Gonzales-Neal, Texas state director of the National Parents Union and Keri Rodrigues, NPU president, said in a statement, "Schools should be a safe haven for our kids. We need more than thoughts and prayers. We need policy change and real action since Texas has had more than 100 school shootings across the state since 1970. As a nation, our track record of putting children before politics, before special interests is shameful and leaves us with little hope. Please prove us wrong."
In a letter to U.S. House and Senate lawmakers, the National Education Association, wrote, "Yes, it happened again. And everyone in America knows it will continue to happen if nothing changes. You have a duty to do everything in your power to protect our children, our educators, our neighbors, our citizens from senseless and preventable killings. What are you waiting for?"
We are maintaining a silence that closely resembles stupidity. ACT!— Dr. Miguel A. Cardona (@teachcardona) May 25, 2022
Lubelfeld, the Illinois superintendent, said school safety includes addressing mental health needs, which have been of heightened concern during the pandemic. "I’m afraid in our nation, the youth mental health crisis is amplified with such easy access to deadly weapons. There is an urgent need for reform," he said.
Many school administrators also focused on practical advice they can offer their staff as they work through their own grief while comforting students and families. School districts emailed resources to employees, and some made special arrangements for counselors to speak with staff and students.
The National Child Stress Traumatic Stress Network offers tips for educators after such events, including what to look for in student reactions. For example, students may have difficulty concentrating in class. Educators can help by understanding classroom activities may be affected, and offering gentle reminders about daily tasks or modifications to work may help the student stay focused, the organization recommends.
The Center for Resilience + Well-Being at the University of Colorado, Boulder recommends adults acknowledge their emotions first before talking to children about scary events by asking themselves what they need. It is normal to feel worried, angry, distracted and many other ways, the center said in one resource.
"Your warm, open presence is the most important thing," the resource said.
In discussing school violence, the National Association of School Psychologists advise educators and parents to reassure children they are safe and to make time for people to talk about school violence when they are ready.
Anna Merod and Naaz Modan contributed to this report