The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District accepted the retirement of Superintendent Hal Harrell on Oct. 10 in the Benson Board Room. After more than an hour-long, closed-session deliberation, the school board approved the search for a new superintendent.
Attendees were crammed into the board room, causing an influx of spectators that spilled outside of the building. Tensions rose as a large group of Harrell supporters filled the streets, displaying the division of the Uvalde community on the accountability of public officials during the aftermath of the May 24 Robb Elementary School shooting.
The Harrell supporters thanked and embraced the superintendent for his work with UCISD, including Dudley Ilse.
“We can’t let the dominos continue to fall,” Ilse said. “On May 24, he probably wasn’t thinking of retiring, but God bless him for what he has done.”
Many parents voiced their anger toward the amount of praise and support Harrell was receiving from various members of the community. Brett Cross, the guardian of Uziyah Garcia, who was among the 21 victims of the mass shooting, expressed his frustration about the divided Uvalde community.
“You got a standing ovation, and we can’t get people caring enough to come to these school board meetings,” Cross said. “If it had been 17 white kids, all of those people out there would have been in here. All of our kids matter.”
Cross was among several parents who protested outside of UCISD headquarters for more than 10 days — about 245 hours, demanding accountability from the school district’s police department.
“245 hr update!!! We did it! And we’re going home!” Cross stated in a Twitter post on Oct. 7, shortly after UCISD announced it would suspend all activities of their police department for a period of time.
According to KSAT 12, the UCISD police department has been under intense scrutiny since hiring Crimson Elizondo, who was one of the police officers who responded on May 24. She is currently being investigated by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“As a result of the recent developments, Lt. Miguel Hernandez and Ken Mueller have been placed on administrative leave,” UCISD said in their Oct. 7 statement. “Officers currently employed will fill other roles in the district. Ken Mueller has elected to retire.”
Soon after the school district announced the suspension of their police department, Harrell’s wife disclosed the superintendent’s decision to retire in a Facebook post.
“My decision to retire has not been made lightly and was made after much prayer and discernment,” Harrell said in the post.
As Harrell walked to the school board meeting, he hugged, greeted community members and addressed the crowd who began to sing the school’s anthem.
“This is quite a blessing and my heart goes out to each and every one of you and the families,” Harrell said. “I pray for them daily, and I want you all to continue to pray for them daily.”
Harrell is an alumnus of UCISD high school. In 1992, he began his career at Uvalde as a special education teacher, according to the school’s website.
“I hope I have done a little bit for each and every one of you all,” Harrell said. “I walk away today with all of the good memories and all of the champions that we have raised.”
A heated discussion occurred outside of the Benson Board Room shortly after a speech by Kimberly Rubio, mother of Lexi Rubio — who passed away in the Robb Elementary School shooting.
“The families never called for Hal Harrell to resign or retire; we asked for the UCISD officers, whose actions have been called into question, be placed on administrative leave pending the investigation,” Rubio said. “Hal Harrell reached the decision to retire on his own.”
In tears, Rubio proceeded to denounce the behavior of her community members about their views and actions toward Harrell’s resignation.
“I am disgusted by this community,” Rubio said. “How dare you decide now to come together when a job is at stake but stayed home when we the families have been demanding transparency and accountability.”
The next UCISD board meeting takes place on Nov. 14. For more information, contact the school’s front office at 830-278-6655 or visit their website at https://www.ucisd.net/schoolboard.