Almost 30% of households in the county lack broadband internet subscriptions.
UVALDE, Texas — Despite her daughter’s fearfulness to return to school in Uvalde and her pleas to learn at home, Sandra Gracia is sending her daughter, Elva, back to school because she can’t afford the online alternative.
“I want to [homeschool], because I think I’d feel more safe…but I have to work,” said Gracia, a single mom.
Just over three months ago, a shooter entered Robb Elementary School where Elva was enrolled and killed 19 of her fellow students and two teachers. Her mother told ABC News her daughter is traumatized after seeing kids coming out of the school wearing clothing marred with blood. Elva’s cousin, Eliahana Cruz Torres, was among the victims.
Families are faced with new considerations as they navigate shared grief, an ongoing investigation involving their school district’s police department and increased security measures that some find insufficient.
Students arrive at Uvalde Elementary, now protected by a fence and Texas State Troopers, for the first day of school, on Sept. 6, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.
Uvalde:365 is a continuing ABC News series reported from Uvalde and focused on the Texas community and how it forges on in the shadow of tragedy.
The first day of school this fall looked different for every student in Uvalde. The public school district in Uvalde gave families a virtual and in-person option, though each presents unique challenges.
A week before the first day of school, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Board announced 136 students were enrolled in the virtual academy — that figure dropped to 59 on the first day of school, with a total student enrollment of 3,724 students, according to the district. Less than 2% of students in Uvalde have opted to learn from home through the school’s offered program.
The school district did not immediately reply to ABC News’ request for overall student withdrawal numbers. This figure would include students who have chosen to homeschool using a third-party program.
Fernanda Moreno, grandmother to fifth grader Gemma, who attended Robb Elementary School, is sending her granddaughter back to school for a sense of normalcy.
“I want her to take the fear away from her and go ahead…leave everything behind and go to school, and forget anything…you know, go to school and everything and move on,” Moreno said.
Gemma added that she learns better in a traditional school environment. A predominantly Spanish speaker, her grandmother said another contributing factor in their decision is that she doesn’t feel capable of helping Gemma with virtual school because of her limited computer skills.
The 2016-2020 U.S. Census reported that 29.7% of households in Uvalde County do not have a subscription to broadband internet, almost 15% above the national average. According to the same report, 19% of the population lives below the poverty line. Almost half of the Uvalde County population speaks a language other than English at home. All of these factors impact whether virtual learning is a feasible option for families.
Without reliable internet access, kids can’t learn online. In an environment where learning is presented in English, an available, fluent and digitally-literate English speaker is necessary for concept-grasping and homework. In Gemma’s case, this is her family’s barrier to opting for at-home learning. The statistics indicate a significant portion of Uvaldean families, as in the Gracias’ case, don’t have the means to stay at home with their children when they must work.
Other parents can accommodate their children for at-home learning, but the option doesn’t come without its own challenges. Tina Quintanilla told ABC News her daughter, Mehle, made the decision to homeschool remotely outside of the district’s virtual offering.
“It was her choice. It was solely her choice. I asked her what she wanted to do. And she said she was not ready to go back to school,” she said.
Quintanilla said that triggering reminders of the shooting are pervasive throughout the district, and that her daughter simply doesn’t feel safe. She said security issues, which she claimed have long been a problem, have not been properly addressed, which is why her daughter is opting for virtual learning.
“If she don’t feel safe, she’s not going to go,” she said.
The school district previously announced an elaborate security enhancement plan that includes an installment of 500 cameras, the hiring of school monitors and a supplemental deployment of 33 Texas Department of Public Safety officers, among other initiatives.
Parents like Quintanilla still find fault in the initiative, as the enhancement plan’s completion will occur sometime after the start of school and officers who responded to the shooting are permitted to return this fall, despite public scrutiny and outcry from the community.