A $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will fund mental health services for Uvalde students and staff, as well as overtime pay for counselors, teachers and security personnel is the first step in getting families and students feeling safe in schools again, said U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales.
Gonzales (D-San Antonio), a Republican who also represents Uvalde, said the grant is what the community needs to begin moving past the May 24 massacre in which an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Gonzales requested the funds in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
“I’m in a triage moment,” he said. “Everyone knows everyone in this town. There’s not one person who wasn’t impacted in one form or fashion. This $1.5 million, while it’s not enough, it is a damn good start to get us on the path to healing.”
The grant comes from the School Emergency Response to Violence program administered by the Office of Safe and Supportive Schools. It provides funding to school districts to help them recover from a violent or other traumatic event, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The mental health resources will help students like Aubriella Melchor, who hid in a bathroom stall while the shooting took place. The 9-year-old almost walked out of the bathroom when she heard a gunshot, so she ducked down and hid until police officers arrived.
Aubriella’s mother, Celeste Ibarra, said her daughter recently started seeing a counselor but is still having trouble eating and sleeping. She rarely speaks. When she does sleep, she shakes and cries in her sleep as if the gunman is coming for her.
“I never used to believe in therapy and counseling, but it’s helped my daughter,” she said.
Ibarra just returned to work, which has been difficult for her daughter, so her therapist recommended Ibarra leave the shirt she slept in on a pillow so Aubriella feels comforted. But it’s been difficult. Aubriella called her mother six times Tuesday while she was at work.
“My daughter’s dead-wrong traumatized,” Ibarra said.
Ibarrra said the grant is a start but that Uvalde schools really need improved security.
“In order for my daughter to go back to school, we would need at least police officers at every school,” she said.
Gonzales said while private and public mental health resources have been dispatched to Uvalde in the wake of the shooting, such as more than 200 counselors, this grant will provide a more steady resource as the other providers come and go.
“The reality is, this is going to be a long healing process,” he said. “It’s been three weeks, and everyone’s still relatively engaged. But there’s going to come a time — and it’s not going to be too far from now — when people start fading away from Uvalde and they move on to something else.”
Part of the plan is to use this funding to help prepare teachers, staff, parents and students to return to school when the fall semester starts in roughly 60 days, Gonzales said. That involves ensuring they are healthy and healing mentally from the shooting.