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Va. school superintendent ousted as teacher’s lawyer says warnings about kid, gun ignored

Newport News Public Schools in Virginia has voted to cut ties with Superintendent George Parker III after a 6-year-old student shot a teacher at Richneck Elementary School earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Richneck Elementary School

Jan. 25 (UPI) — A Virginia school board has voted to oust its superintendent after a 6-year-old shot a teacher inside a first-grade classroom earlier this month.

The Newport News Public Schools school board voted 5-1 Wednesday evening to cut ties with Superintendent George Parker III, hours after the teacher’s lawyer said school administrators were warned before the shooting that the boy had a gun.

“Over the course of a few hours, three different times — three times — school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people,” Diane Toscano, an attorney for teacher Abby Zwerner, told reporters Wednesday.

Toscano said Zwerner, 25, plans to sue the school district over the Jan. 6 shooting, which left the teacher with serious injuries.

In the press briefing, Toscano said administrators at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., ignored multiple reports from teachers that a student had a gun either in his backpack or pocket the day Zwerner was shot.

On three occasions that morning, three different school employees told administrators that the boy had a gun on him and threatened other students, Toscano said.

“But the administration could not be bothered,” Toscano said.

“This tragedy was entirely preventable, if school administrators, responsible for school safety, had done their part and taken action to acknowledge imminent danger,” Toscano said.

The first report came between 11:15 and 11:30 a.m., when Zwerner told an administrator that the boy threatened to “beat up” another child.

About 12:30 p.m., another teacher told an administrator that she searched the boy’s backpack but did not find a gun. She said she suspected the boy put the gun in his pocket before going to recess.

The administrator dismissed the warning, saying “he has little pockets,” according to Toscano.

After 1 p.m., a third teacher said they spoke with another young boy who they found crying. The boy told them that the suspect showed them the gun during recess and threatened to shoot them if they told anybody about it.

A fourth school employee who heard about a child possibly having a gun asked for permission to search his backpack and was denied by administrators.

“He was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over,” Toscano said.

Zwerner was shot in front of her class at about 1:59 p.m. She ushered her students out of the classroom before also exiting. She then went down the hallway and into the administrative office, where faculty gave her first aid while waiting for medics to arrive.

Another school employee restrained the shooter until law enforcement arrived.

“Abby Zwerner is the best of us,” Toscano said. “An optimistic, dedicated and caring elementary school teacher who endured the unthinkable, being shot purposely by a 6-year-old student in front of her first-grade class while teaching.”

Toscano said Zwerner is at home recovering, but the bullet that struck her remains inside her body. She informed the Newport News School Board that she intends to file a lawsuit on behalf of Zwerner.

“Had the school administrators acted in the interest of their teachers and their students, Abby would not have sustained a gunshot wound to the chest,” she said.

UPI reached out to the school for comment but did not receive a reply.

Parker, who has been with the district since 2018, will be replaced by an interim superintendent on Feb. 1. Members of the school board said the school district needs to move in a “new direction” with a “safety-oriented” board.

On Wednesday, the elementary school’s vice principal resigned, Newport News Public Schools confirmed.

Richneck Elementary, which has been closed for nearly a month, is scheduled to reopen on Monday.

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