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Survivors of the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting are disappointed in Texas laws

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Four years and six days before the Uvalde shooting, a gunman at Santa Fe High School in Texas killed 10 people and wounded about a dozen others. Flo Rice was a substitute teacher who was among the injured. And in the days after the shooting in Uvalde, she and her husband, Scot Rice, went there to offer support.

FLO RICE: Attended a vigil. And we went around to some of the various shops even that were open and just told people who we were, and we understood and just gave them a hug.

RASCOE: Since then, they've been speaking out about their disappointment in Texas lawmakers' failure to protect schools. I started our conversation last week by asking them how they were doing in the wake of their own tragedy, as well as the one in Uvalde.

F RICE: Physically, I have recovered so much. I am so grateful to be able to walk again. And I'm extremely lucky. The mental aspect of it - it's a challenge with PTSD, but I'm grateful for every day I have. But it's - every shooting, particularly school shootings, it's just horrific. It just brings back everything because you can feel these people's pain. You know the fear. You know what - the trauma that they're going through.

RASCOE: I can't even imagine. And, Scot, how are you holding up?

SCOT RICE: Most of the time, I'm strong. But, sometimes, you know, I break down, too. But usually, I'm just the one here to support Flo. I have my moments. But, you know, most of the time, I've used my anger and my despair to make a difference for us and for everybody else.

RASCOE: You mentioned using your anger and your despair to try to do something. You were a part of those roundtable discussions hosted by Governor Abbott after the Santa Fe shooting, and the emphasis was on school safety. But my understanding is you have, you know, said that you feel like they didn't really amount to anything. Why is that?

S RICE: Well, we'd like to know that, too. We thought that the work had been done and that the committees that were formed after the roundtables - they listened to everything we said. And everybody poured their hearts out. I told the story of the day from the second that she called me, minute by minute until I got her to the hospital. We worked really hard on legislation with our state legislators, and we believed everything they said. We believed what the governor told us, that we were going to put a stop to this, that Santa Fe was, you know, the last straw. They made a lot of promises, and they didn't keep any of them because nothing they did, nothing they put in place actually has the wording or the authority to make schools do what the suggestions were. And that's all they are, suggestions. There's no penalties if the school doesn't follow through with what they're supposed to do.

RASCOE: And so some of the things that were included in this law in 2019 - it was supposed to strengthen mental health initiatives, give money to schools for safety and security, and it also instructed them to come up with, like, active shooter strategies. Those were the things that were supposed to happen, but there was no consequence if a school did not follow those recommendations.

F RICE: Right. It is a mandate. So the Texas School Safety Center puts out the information on how to follow the mandates, detailed information on how to establish an emergency operation plan, an active shooter policy, along with all the physical things that they needed in place such as phones and panic buttons and things. They provide training - everything that school needed. However, they don't have enforceability. They did audits afterwards to see which districts actually implemented this information. And out of 1,022 school districts, 67 had a viable emergency operation plan, and 200 had a viable active shooter policy. Just from that, you can tell that they were not interested in following these mandates.

RASCOE: You have focused on this idea kind of school hardening, school safety. Like, there are some safety experts that say, you know, hardening schools won't reduce gun violence. Others say it isn't realistic to have students in a school funnel into and out of a single door. That's one thing that's been talked about. Are there other things you think need to be done?

F RICE: Yes, there are many things. Obviously, mental health, and there's issues with the availability of guns. We have tried to focus on the things that could have changed and kept our specific shooting from happening. So one of the issues in our shooting was that our shooter - he was underaged, and he got his gun from his parents. So that is what we focused on, holding parents accountable if their children get a gun and kill someone, injure someone. Because right now it's just a misdemeanor, and it's only for, I think, 17 and under. So we have supported bills that have been presented to hold parents accountable for locking up their firearms. But for some reason, Texas won't pass it.

S RICE: We've lobbied for so many different bills that would affect us and other people that you think it would be a slam dunk. But somehow, they end up letting it time out, or it doesn't get on the calendar. And we're just so frustrated with no progress.

RASCOE: After shootings happen, the response - you get all of - it's very partisan. There are these debates that seem to happen over and over and over again, but it just doesn't seem like things are done that really move the needle. Like, do you see a path to maybe change that?

F RICE: I know we have to try to set us up so just - for just small progress, incremental progress. But sadly, it seems like no progress, actually, was made after Santa Fe. I truly believe that the school safety bill the governor signed could be effective if it had been implemented.

S RICE: The reason we're doing all this talking now is because the governors now have another committee, right? And we did this before. And even after El Paso shooting and the Midland-Odessa shooting, there's been a committee, and I'm committee-ed (ph) out. I'm tired of it. And the information's there. The experts have already spoken. They've already put out all the information. So why can't we do something right now? Why can't we say, this is enough; I'm making these minimum requirements? Before your school opens, you better have a person at every door or every door locked. You need to have this, and I will give you the funding for whatever it takes. But the first day those kids come back to school after summer break, that school needs to be safe. Those parents need to feel safe. And I would not take my kid back to school right now if I was going to drop them off. There's no way I would feel safe.

RASCOE: Scot Rice and his wife, Flo Rice, who was a survivor of the Santa Fe High School shooting. Thank you so much for being with us.

F RICE: Thank you.

S RICE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.