Concerned teachers and employees warned administrators at a Virginia elementary school three times that a six-year-old boy had a gun and was threatening other students in the hours before he shot and wounded a teacher, “but the administration could not be bothered” and didn’t call police, remove the boy from class or lock down the school, a lawyer for the teacher said.
Diane Toscano, an attorney for Abigail Zwerner, told reporters on Wednesday she had notified the Newport News school board that the 25-year-old Richneck elementary school teacher plans to sue the school district over the 6 January shooting, which left Zwerner with serious injuries.
Toscano said: “On that day, 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. But the administration could not be bothered.”
Later on Wednesday, the school board voted to relieve district superintendent George Parker III of his duties effective 1 February as part of a separation agreement and severance package.
Parker’s departure had been expected since a school board agenda was posted on Tuesday showing that the panel was set to vote on his separation package. The school board announced his departure following a closed-door special meeting on Wednesday evening.
The board voted 5-1 in favor of the separation agreement and severance package. School board chair Lisa Surles-Law said the decision was made “without cause”, and said Parker has been a “capable division leader” who has served Newport News for nearly five years through challenging times.
The school, which has been closed since the shooting, is scheduled to 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 in a note to parents on Monday.
On 6 January about 12.30pm, Toscano said, a teacher told administrators she had taken it upon herself to search the boy’s book bag but warned that she thought he had the gun in his pocket. “The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying – and I quote – ‘Well, he has little pockets,’” Toscano said.
Toscano said that after 1pm, another boy who was “crying and fearful” told his teacher the other student had shown him the gun and threatened to shoot him, and that the teacher reported that to administrators.
Another employee asked for permission to search the boy but “was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over”, Toscano said.
Zwerner told school administrators around 11.15am that the boy had threatened to beat up another child.
The shooting stunned Newport News, a city of about 185,000 70 miles south-east of Richmond.
The police chief, Steve Drew, has characterized the shooting as “intentional”, saying the boy aimed at Zwerner and fired one round, striking 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 at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting the boy might have had a weapon, but no weapon 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 spokesperson Michelle Price declined to comment.
“Since the school division’s investigation is ongoing, I cannot comment on the statements presented by Ms. Zwerner’s lawyer at this time,” Price wrote in an email.
The boy’s mother legally purchased the gun, police said. The boy’s family said in a statement last week the gun was “secured”. The family’s attorney, James Ellenson, said his understanding was that the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf well over 6ft 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 “that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day”. The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not with him, the family said.
Cindy Connell, a middle school teacher in Newport News, called the events described by Toscano “beyond horrifying”.
“This is just another example of administrators not listening to the concerns of teachers, and the only reason we’re talking about this one is because Abby Zwerner got shot,” Connell said.
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