Concerned teachers and employees warned administrators at a Virginia elementary school three times that a six-year-old boy had a gun and threatened other students in the hours before he shot and injured a teacher, “but the administration could not be bothered” and did not call police , the boy was not taken out of class or locked out of school, a lawyer for the teacher said.
Diane Toscano, an attorney for Abigail Zwerner, told reporters Wednesday that she had informed the Newport News school board that the 25-year-old Richneck elementary school teacher plans to sue the school district over the Jan. 6 shooting, in which Zwerner suffered serious injuries. .
Toscano said: “On that day, over the course of a few hours, three different times – three times – the school board was alerted by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had pointed a gun at him and was threatening people. But the administration didn’t care.”
Later on Wednesday, the school board voted to relieve district superintendent George Parker III of his duties, effective Feb. 1, as part of a severance agreement and severance package.
Parker’s departure had been expected since a school board agenda was posted Tuesday that showed the panel would vote on his divorce package. The school board announced his departure on Wednesday evening after a special meeting held behind closed doors.
The board voted 5 to 1 in favor of the separation agreement and severance package. School board president Lisa Surles-Law said the decision was made “for no reason,” saying Parker has been a “capable division leader” who has served Newport News for nearly five years during difficult times.
The school, which has been closed since the shooting, will reopen next week. Karen Lynch, a longtime principal in the Newport News school district, has been named as an “administrator on special assignment” at Richneck, Lynch said Monday in a note to parents.
At about 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 6, Toscano said, a teacher told custodians she had taken it upon herself to search the boy’s bookbag, but warned them she thought he had the gun in his pocket. “The administrator downplayed the teacher’s report and the possibility of a gun and said — and I quote — ‘Well, he’s got small pockets,'” Toscano said.
Toscano said that after 1 p.m., another boy who was “crying and scared” told his teacher that the other student had shown him the gun and threatened to shoot him, and that the teacher had reported it to administrators.
Another employee requested permission to search the boy, but “was told to wait and see the situation because the school day was almost over,” Toscano said.
Zwerner told school officials around 11:15 a.m. that the boy had threatened to beat up another child.
The shooting stunned Newport News, a city of about 185,000 70 miles southeast of Richmond.
The police chief, Steve Drew, has characterized the shooting as “intentional”, saying the boy aimed at Zwerner and fired one shot, hitting her in the hand and chest.
Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks and is now recovering at home.
The school’s Superintendent George Parker III has said that at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy may have had a gun, but no gun was found when his backpack was searched.
Police have said school officials did not tell them about that tip before the shooting, which happened hours later.
School district spokeswoman Michelle Price declined to comment.
“As the school department’s investigation is ongoing, I cannot comment at this time on the statements made by Ms. Zwerner’s attorney,” Price wrote in an email.
The boy’s mother bought the gun legally, police said. The boy’s family said in a statement last week that the weapon was “secure”. The family’s attorney, James Ellenson, said he understood the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf more than six feet high and had a trigger lock that required a key.
The family said the boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan “where his mother or father went to school with him and accompanied him to class every day”. The week of the shooting was the first that a parent was away from him, the family said.
Cindy Connell, a Newport News high school teacher, called the events described by Toscano “beyond horrifying”.
“This is just another example of administrators not listening to teachers’ concerns, and the only reason we’re talking about this is because Abby Zwerner was shot,” Connell said.