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'They have no business being in a classroom right now': Father who lost daughter in Uvalde massacre says district should cancel summer school

Alfred Garza III's daughter, Amerie Jo Garza, was killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary. His step son, "didn't feel good" about going to school this week.

UVALDE, Texas — Two weeks after 21 lives were taken in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, some families have decided to not send their children to summer school. A district spokesperson said they were expecting 1,000 students to participate in summer school on the first day (including participants in their summer fine arts program), but just below 600 attended. 

Alfred Garza III lost his 10 year old daughter, Amerie Jo Garza, in the shooting. Tuesday, he told members of the press his stepson, who was a second grader at Robb Elementary School, "was asking a lot of questions and he didn’t feel good about going today." 

Garza and his stepson's parents decided to keep him home that day. "His education is important, but his mental and physical health is more important to us," he said.

Garza said his stepson is mostly in good spirits, but still has a lot of questions. Garza believes his son is having a hard time accepting what happened and accepting death. 

"Even if you didn’t directly lose a family member, I don’t think classes should have proceeded, we need to wait," he said. "There’s changes that need to be made before school in August, going to school two weeks after (all this) happened…unacceptable."

In a statement to KENS 5, a district spokesperson said in part that participation in summer school programs is optional.

"District and campus leadership understands the uncertainty surrounding us now and respects the need to process," read the statement. 

According to the statement, the district is working with "local and area agencies to have additional counselors available."

In addition to a social-emotional curriculum, emotional support animals will be on each campus. The district also said each summer school campus will have two officers on site. 

Trauma is something that can affect all people, of all ages, said Dr. Kimberly VanBuren, a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

She recommends parents speaking to their kids about what happened, and letting kids speak about how they are feeling. 

"So often we think with our kids we need to shelter them from all the information because it’s going to reinjure them, but letting them speak about their feelings and asking them 'how do you feel about this? is really important," she said. 

"Nothing prepares you for something of this magnitude where your child has been taken from you in a way like this," Dr. VanBuren said. "It’s not supposed to be this way, we’re not made to deal with this type of trauma in school and for kids at that age." 

For parents struggling with the decision to send their children back to school, Dr. VanBuren says it is best to be honest with kids by letting them know that parents are scared too. 

"Let them know that overall it’s safe. Yes, it is scary, but let them know that all these things are in place to keep them safe," she said. 

For Garza, two weeks is too soon. 

"They (students) have no business being in a classroom right now, they need to be with families," he said. 

KENS 5 followed up to clarify if summer school is optional for students who need the extra instructional time to advance to the next grade level, and we are waiting to hear back.

Here is the full original statement from UCSID: 

Uvalde CISD strives to meet the needs of our students. While summer school programming is optional for students, we know that academics are important and that some children are needing opportunities to be together and be engaged in a supportive environment. We are working with local and area agencies to have additional counselors available, as well as include a social-emotional curriculum. Emotional support animals will be on each campus to provide services to staff and students as needed. District and campus leadership understands the uncertainty surrounding us now and respects the need to process.

The summer school program is hosted at Dalton Elementary, Batesville Elementary, Flores Elementary, Uvalde Dual Language Academy, and Uvalde High School until June 30. Student participation on the first day of the summer programs which includes Summer School and Summer Fine Arts was right below 600, the expected participation was approximately 1,000. Teachers made personal phone calls to families inviting their child(ren) to attend summer school. Safety and security measures were shared with parents over phone call discussions. Safety and security will continue with the enhancement of each summer school campus having two officers on each campus.

The Uvalde CISD counseling team will continue to be available at the Benson Educational Complex Cafeteria, 601 Dean Street. Uvalde CISD students and faculty are welcome to visit the Benson Educational Complex Monday through Thursday between the hours of 10:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. Counseling services for the community are available on www.ucisd.net. We know that our lives will never be the same, but we also know that we must move forward as we remember and treasure the lives and legacies of those lost to us. We grieve together, we pray together, we grow together, and we build a brighter future together as we are #UvaldeStrong.

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