DOJ Releases Uvalde Review in mid-January

DOJ Releases Uvalde Review in mid-January

Where are comments by Fairfax County and Virginia on recommendations?

Dr. Michelle Reid, division chief, Fairfax County Public Schools

Dr. Michelle Reid, division chief, Fairfax County Public Schools

The deadliest K-12 school shooting in the U.S. since Sandy Hook occurred in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. A former student equipped with a high-powered AR-15 rifle entered Robb Elementary School at 11:33 a.m. Over the course of the 77-minute gap from when officers first arrived on the scene and when they confronted and killed the subject, the shooter murdered 19 students and two teachers.

The U.S. Justice Department deemed the response “cascading failures of leadership” in its Critical Incident Review of the Response Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School released on Jan. 18, 2024.The nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Merrick B. Garland, Attorney General of the U.S. said, ”We hope to honor the victims and the survivors by working together to try to prevent anything like this from ever happening again, here or anywhere.” 

The DOJ provides a litany of blistering observations by topic, followed by recommendations in its 600-page review. The content translates to school divisions, law enforcement, and legislatures across the U.S.

According to Garland, the victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary deserved better. “The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022, and the response by officials in the hours and days after, was a failure. As a consequence of failed leadership, training, and policies, 33 students and three of their teachers, many of whom had been shot, were trapped in a room with an active shooter for over an hour as law enforcement officials remained outside,” states the DOJ in the review. 

The message no parent or loved one wants to read. 


On Jan. 18, the same day the DOJ released its Uvalde review, President Joe Biden said in a statement that there were multiple points of failure that hold lessons for the future. He said that his team would “work with the Justice Department and Department of Education to implement policy changes necessary to help communities respond more effectively in the future.”

“No community should ever have to go through what the Uvalde community suffered,” Biden said.

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers said in statement on Jan. 18,  that no community is immune from school shootings and urged implementation of the DOJ’s recommendations. 

The DOJ’s  critical incident review is life-saving knowledge intended for law enforcement agencies, school divisions, and state departments of education. It lists observations and recommendations on Tactics and Equipment; Leadership, Incident Command, and Coordination; Post-Incident Response and Investigation; Public Communications During and Following the Crisis; Trauma and Support Services; and School Safety and Security.

Yet so far, leadership in Fairfax County and the Commonwealth of Virginia have yet to call publicly for studying or implementing the recommendations in DOJ’s Uvalde report. No officials have called for reviewing or revising current policies here. Discussion here on active shooter strategies, physical building hardening, campus policing and how to react in certain attack scenarios has yet to be informed by recommendations in the detailed report. The report contains recommendations about how to respond to a possible attack by insiders with authorized access to schools, by snipers operating from a distance and frontal assaults where an armed intruder forcibly enters.

The Connection began reaching out to officials in early February for reaction, and several key officials responded.

Dr. Michelle Reid, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools (response via mail response, Feb. 6, 2023): “Reading, studying and learning from the Uvalde report is important and necessary work. It is also re-traumatizing for children, families and educators across our country, all of whom were impacted by the horrific loss of life in Uvalde. The report reinforces my belief in the importance of partnerships in communities to help keep schools safe. In Fairfax County, we are so grateful for our partnerships with law enforcement and community agencies that help us maintain a focus on student and staff mental health and physical safety.
“I want to make clear that we have a multi-disciplinary approach to school safety in which training, planning, and partnerships are critical to our district protocols. Schools are a reflection of our communities, and unfortunately, across the nation, our communities have become increasingly violent. As we all think about the impact of events such as the Uvalde tragedy, it serves as a reminder of the need to convince ourselves to prioritize the health and safety needs of our communities.
“The impact on our students and staff of traumatic events like this makes it hard to do our best teaching and learning in schools across the nation. Our country and our elected officials would do well to recognize that in order to learn, students and staff must first feel safe, and resources must be committed to this effort. We need everyone’s help in making our schools and our communities a safe place to thrive.”

Karl Frisch, Chairman, Fairfax County School Board and Providence district representative said in an email response, Feb. 12, 2024: “Fairfax County Public Schools has a thorough and multi-faceted strategy for ensuring the safety and security of our schools, incorporating physical, technical, and operational safeguards. Our dedicated team within the Office of Safety and Security is committed to regularly updating and refining our safety protocols to ensure the wellbeing of our students and employees remains our top priority.”

Melanie Meren, vice chair of the Fairfax County School Board, Hunter Mill district representative said in an email response Feb. 16: “I’m not able to provide specific comments on the DOJ’s report… . Speak with the Fairfax County Police Department, though, as they are the law enforcement experts. You may know that our school resource officers, who are assigned to middle and high schools, are budgeted for and employed by the police department.

Katherine Hayek, spokesperson for Fairfax County Police Department, has not responded to requests for comment.

The first school shooting of 2024 happened in Virginia on Jan. 3, when an 18 year-old was shot and injured in the parking lot at Midlothian High School, in Midlothian, Va. 

Following the Midlothian High School shooting in Virginia,  the second U.S. school shooting of 2024 occurred on Jan. 4 at Perry High School near Des Moines. The shooter opened fire, killing a sixth grader and shooting seven others; four students and three staff members, including the school principal, Dan Marburger, who put himself in harm’s way. Marburger died of his injuries ten days later, on Jan. 14. 

The deadliest mass school shooting ever happened in Virginia at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. The Virginia Tech shooter was a Fairfax County Public School graduate of Westfield High School (2003). Five of the 32 people the gunman shot and killed in the massacre were Fairfax County Public School graduates: Maxine Turner, James Madison High School, 2003; Leslie Sherman, West Springfield High School, 2005;  Erin Peterson, Westfield High School, 2006;  Reema Samaha, Westfield High School, 2006; and Mary Read, Annandale High School, 2006. The shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, former police officer and  SRO during the time that the Columbine massacre happened. Canady was very clear in an interview on Feb. 16 about "good protocol around lockdowns," especially for students who are outside during an active shooter situation. Run; Hide: Fight. Whether it's recess at the primary level or PE at the high school level, “If the assailant is inside the building, firing rounds … we don't want to bring students back into a building where the violence is occurring. That's akin to running back into a burning building. That's for firefighters to do,” Canady said. “Running into a building where gun firing is happening, that’s for law enforcement. We don’t want anyone [else] running into that danger.”