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https://apnews.com/article/newport-news-virginia-88dfe91f65173cbbd198a8816a21b5be

 

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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A 6-year-old student shot and wounded a teacher at his school in Virginia during an altercation inside a first-grade classroom Friday, police and school officials in the city of Newport News said.

Experts said a school shooting involving a 6-year-old is extremely rare, although not unheard of, while Virginia law limits the ways in which a child that age can be punished for such a crime.

No students were injured in the shooting at Richneck Elementary School, police said. The teacher — a woman in her 30s — suffered life-threatening injuries. Her condition had improved somewhat by late afternoon, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said.

“We did not have a situation where someone was going around the school shooting,” Drew told reporters, later adding that the gunshot was not an accident.

Drew said the student and teacher had known each other in a classroom setting.

He said the boy had a handgun in the classroom, and investigators were trying to figure out where he obtained it. The police chief did not provide further details about the shooting, the altercation or what happened inside the school.

Joselin Glover, whose son is in fourth grade, told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper she got a text from the school stating that one person was shot and another was in custody.

“My heart stopped,” she said. “I was freaking out, very nervous. Just wondering if that one person was my son.”

 

Carlos, her 9-year-old, was at recess. But he said he and his classmates were soon holed up in the back of a classroom.

“Most of the whole class was crying,” Carlos told the newspaper.

Parents and students were reunited at a gymnasium door, Newport News Public Schools said via Facebook.

The police chief did not specifically address questions about whether authorities were in touch with the boy’s parents, but said members of the police department were handling that investigation.

“We have been in contact with our commonwealth’s attorney (local prosecutor) and some other entities to help us best get services to this young man,” Drew said.

Newport News is a city of about 185,000 people in southeastern Virginia known for its shipyard, which builds the nation’s aircraft carriers and other U.S. Navy vessels.

Richneck has about 550 students who are in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s website. School officials have already said that there will be no classes at the school on Monday.

“Today our students got a lesson in gun violence,” said George Parker III, Newport News schools superintendent, “and what guns can do to disrupt, not only an educational environment, but also a family, a community.”

Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults.

In addition, a 6-year-old is too young to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if found guilty.

A juvenile judge would have authority, though, to revoke a parent’s custody and place a child under the purview of the Department of Social Services.

A school shooting involving a 6-year-old is extremely rare, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Boston’s Northeastern University.

Fox told The Associated Press Friday evening that he could think of one previous incident involving a child that age.

In 2000, a 6-year-old boy fired a bullet from a .32-caliber gun inside Buell Elementary near Flint, Michigan, 60 miles (96 kilometers) from Detroit, striking 6-year-old Kayla Rolland in the neck, according to an AP article from the time. She died a half-hour later.

Fox analyzed school shooting data sets going back to 1970 from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, which is located at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He said the data listed school shootings involving children ages 7, 8, 9 and older, but not 6-year-olds.

Another factor that stands out about the Virginia shooting is that it occurred in a classroom, Fox said. Many occur outside a school building where students are unsupervised.

From 2010 through 2021, there were more than 800 school-related shootings in K-12 schools that involved 1,149 victims. Thirty percent of those occurred in the school building, said Fox, who published the 2010 book, “Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool Through College.”

“There are students who killed teachers, more typically high school students,” Fox said. “I don’t know of other cases where a 6-year-old shot a teacher.”

___

Barakat reported from Falls Church, Virginia.

 

 

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https://www.wavy.com/news/local-news/newport-news/newport-news-superintendent-provides-new-details-in-richneck-school-shooting-at-town-hall/

 

 

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Superintendent: 6-year-old’s backpack searched before Richneck shooting

 

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This is like the most "American" story you can imagine. 

 

Guns make everything and everyone safer!.....except for the millions of occasions when they don't and ruin lives instead. 

 

 

 

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https://news.yahoo.com/anger-grows-virginia-city-where-160556171.html

 

 

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Anger grows in Virginia city where first-grader shot teacher

 

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — When a 6-year-old shot and wounded his first-grade teacher in this shipbuilding city near Virginia’s coast, the community reacted with collective shock.

But the sentiment percolated over 12 days into rage from parents and particularly from teachers, with many lambasting school administrators Tuesday night for what they called a misguided emphasis on attendance and other education statistics over the safety of children and staff.

During a three-hour school board meeting dedicated solely to public comment, Newport News teachers and parents said students who assaulted classmates and staff were routinely allowed to stay in the classroom with few consequences. They said the shooting of Abigail Zwerner could have been prevented if not for a toxic environment in which teachers' concerns are systemically ignored.

“Every day in every one of our schools, teachers, students and other staff members are being hurt,” high school librarian Nicole Cooke told the board. “Every day, they’re hit. They’re bitten. They’re beaten. And they’re allowed to stay so that our numbers look good.”

 

Addressing superintendent George Parker, Cooke said: “If Abigail had been respected, she wouldn't be in the hospital right now.”

The shooting occurred on Jan. 6 as Zwerner taught her first-grade class at Richneck Elementary. There was no warning and no struggle before the 6-year-old pointed the gun at his teacher and fired one round, police said.

The bullet pierced Zwerner’s hand and struck her chest. The 25-year-old hustled her students out of the classroom before being rushed to the hospital.

Newport News police said the 6-year-old's mother legally purchased the gun but that it was unclear how her son gained access to it. A Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14, a misdemeanor crime punishable with a maximum one-year prison sentence and $2,500 fine. No charges have been brought against the mother so far.

Community reaction shifted into anger late last week after the superintendent revealed that Richneck administrators had learned the child may have had a weapon in his possession before the shooting. But a search did not find the 9mm handgun despite staff looking through his bag.

Zwerner's shooting was “completely preventable — if the red flags had been taken seriously and proper procedures clearly communicated and followed," Amber Thomas, a former school psychologist in Newport News, told the board.

Thomas left the school system early in 2022 after working there for a decade. In an interview with The Associated Press, she recalled a time when a “teacher was assaulted by a student — and that student faced no disciplinary action at all.”

“There were situations in which the administrators walked away from things that were happening,” said Thomas, who served three elementary schools at a time, although not Richneck. “A school counselor and I were often called to intervene with explosive behaviors. And the administrator would see what was going on and turn around and walk the other way and never assist or do anything to follow up.”

Cindy Connell, a middle school teacher who also addressed the board, told the AP that the school system’s leadership is too afraid of angering parents and too focused on limiting discipline such as suspensions.

“I think that our administrators are under an intense pressure to make everything appear better than it is in reality,” Connell said. “And that approach, over the course of a number of years, has put us where we are today."

Connell said there’s a general fear over the public’s response to doing something like searching a 6-year-old for a weapon — and a weapon not being found. There are also concerns that pulling kids with serious behavioral problems out of the classroom will imperil a school’s accreditation.

The shooting by a first-grader was not a shock to Connell.

“I have teacher friends who have been hit by kindergarteners, kicked by kindergarteners, punched by kindergarteners, stabbed with pencils by kindergarteners,” she said. “So the only difference is that this child had access to a weapon at home. So, if you put those two things together, I’m not surprised.”

Michelle Price, a spokeswoman for the school board, did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press asking for comment on the various criticisms expressed Tuesday night.

Newport News is a racially diverse city of about 185,000 people — about 45% white and 41% Black — that sits along the James River near the Chesapeake Bay. It's probably best known for its sprawling shipyard, which builds the nation’s aircraft carriers and other U.S. Navy vessels.

About 15% of the population lives in poverty, according to U.S. Census data. More than 400 of the nearly 1,000 incidents of violent crime in the city in 2021 involved a handgun or firearm, according to FBI statistics.

“Gun violence has become a constant for our students,” William Fenker, an eighth-grade science teacher, told the board. “It has been a salient issue in our community for some time now ... Gun violence has even made its way into our schools.”

Newport News schools endured two other shootings in the 17 months before Zwerner was struck by a bullet at Richneck Elementary.

In September 2021, two 17-year-old students were wounded when a 15-year-old boy fired shots in a crowded high school hallway after he had a fight with one of the students.

Two months after that shooting, an 18-year-old student fatally shot a 17-year-old in the parking lot of a different high school after a football game. Police said the teens exchanged “gestures” in the gym before an altercation broke out.

“Our students do not wonder if there will be another school shooting,” Fenker told the board. “They wonder when and where the next shooting will be.”

Last week, the school board announced that 90 walk-through metal detectors would be placed in schools across Newport News, starting with the elementary school where Zwerner was shot.

But that failed to satisfy many parents at Tuesday night's board meeting.

Doug Marmon, who has two children in school and two others who have graduated, called for the removal of the school system's executive leadership “for their failure of imagination of what could happen.”

Marmon suggested the placement of two security officers at each elementary school. He also wants the school system to change how it addresses student behavior, which he said has “proven ineffective.”

“Students need to held accountable for their actions, regardless of age or circumstances — not transferred to another school or placed in a different classroom,” he said. “Equality in our schools should not include the suffering of the majority for the lack of discipline for the few.”

Another parent, David Wilson, said the problem starts with at home. But he also questioned the impact of removing children who misbehave from the classroom.

“We can do what everybody wants to do — we can start suspending more kids, sending them home,” Wilson said.

“So you just prevented a school shooting but you just caused a 7-Eleven shooting,” he said. “You didn't solve the issue. You shifted the issue from one thing to another.”

___

Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Auburn85 said:

“Students need to held accountable for their actions, regardless of age or circumstances — not transferred to another school or placed in a different classroom,” he said. “Equality in our schools should not include the suffering of the majority for the lack of discipline for the few.”

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https://www.nbc29.com/2023/01/19/lawyer-gun-used-by-child-who-shot-teacher-was-secured/

 

 

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Lawyer: 6-year-old who shot teacher has ‘acute disability’

 

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 10:28 AM CST
 

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The family of a 6-year-old boy who shot and wounded his teacher in Virginia said Thursday that the child suffered from “an acute disability” and that one of his parents usually accompanied him in class but did not the week the shooting occurred.

Also on Thursday, the hospital that had been treating the teacher said that she was released earlier this week and is continuing outpatient care.

The statement from the boy’s family was released through the office of attorney James S. Ellenson. It is the first public communication from the child’s family since the shooting occurred on Jan. 6 in the city of Newport News.

“Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children,” said the family, which was not identified. “The firearm our son accessed was secured.”

The statement did not elaborate further on where the 9mm handgun was kept or what they meant by “secured.”

Ellenson told The Associated Press by phone Thursday evening that his understanding is that the gun was in the mother’s closet on a top shelf that was well over six feet high. The weapon also had a trigger lock that requires a key, similar to a bike lock.

Regarding how the child may have gotten access to the gun, Ellenson said: “We don’t know.”

Regarding the disability, the family said the boy “was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.”

The family said the week of the shooting “was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”

It was unclear what the family meant by accompanying him to class everyday and whether that included staying with him during instruction.

The statement did not define the boy’s disability. And it did not explain what his “care plan” was and whether it was similar to other plans that serve children with disabilities.

Ellenson said the plan was what is known as an “individualized education program” or IEP, which is provided to students with disabilities under federal law. When asked if the disability was intellectual or behavioral, Ellenson said it was “all of the above.”

Ellenson said the boy’s parents had been accompanying him to class for a number of weeks. He said he believes that a parent would sit with him during class “on occasion.”

“And then I guess it was a joint decision between the school and the parents that this was no longer necessary,” Ellenson said.

Federal law requires public schools to make accommodations for students with disabilities and to modify curriculums, if necessary, to serve a student’s educational needs and goals, said Michael J. Kennedy, a professor of special education at the University of Virginia.

About 12% of students in U.S. public schools have what’s known as an “individualized education program,” Kennedy said. They require input from parents, teachers and other staff, such as a school psychologist.

An accommodation for students with learning disabilities could be giving them extended time to complete an assignment or a test, Kennedy said. An accommodation for students with behavioral disabilities could mean seating them close to the teacher.

It is rare, however, for students with disabilities to be accompanied by an adult, such as an instructional aide who works with children one-on-one, Kennedy said. But it does happen among a small number of students, particularly with children who have extensive needs.

Kennedy, a former special education teacher, said he’s never heard of parents serving a similar role in the classroom.

“This is the school’s responsibility,” he said. “If the child has a disability of that severity that they need full-time support, that should be agreed to by the (individualized education program) team. And then the school would provide it.”

The shooting has drawn international attention to Newport News, a shipbuilding city which sits along the James River near Chesapeake Bay. It has many people across the nation struggling to comprehend how such a thing could happen, while fueling an ongoing debate about how schools discipline children.

Police have said that the 6-year-old’s mother legally purchased the gun but that it was unclear how her son gained access to it. A Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14, a misdemeanor crime punishable with a maximum one-year prison sentence and a $2,500 fine.

The shooting occurred as Abigail Zwerner was teaching her first grade class at Richneck Elementary. Authorities said there was no warning and no struggle before the boy pointed the gun at Zwerner. The bullet pierced her hand and struck her chest, police said. The 25-year-old teacher hustled her students out of the classroom before being rushed to the hospital.

The superintendent of Newport News schools revealed last week that Richneck administrators had learned the child may have had a weapon before the shooting. But a search did not find the handgun, despite staff looking through his bag.

Thursday’s statement from the boy’s family said that “we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school.”

“She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son,” the family’s statement continued. “We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice. We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community, and the nation.”

The family said the child has been under hospital care since the shooting and is receiving “the treatment he needs.”

“At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.”

Steve Drew, the Newport News police chief, has described the shooting as “intentional.” A judge will determine what’s next for the child.

Ellenson, the attorney for the boy’s family members, said they are cooperating fully with police in their investigation.

No charges have been brought against the mother, but the investigation continues, Drew said Wednesday during a Facebook live chat with the community.

The chief was asked at least twice about whether the boy’s parents would be held accountable or the mother charged. Drew responded by saying he wanted to ensure detectives were able to conduct a thorough investigation.

“I am not going to rush them,” Drew said. His department has a great relationship with local prosecutors, he said, and he has “tremendous faith” that “they will make the right decision based on the evidence that they have in front of them.”

Investigators have nearly finished interviewing the children who were in the classroom, Drew said, and police are working with a psychologist to talk to them about what they saw.

“This is a unprecedented incident that we have had in our city, where a 6-year-old child obtained a firearm, brought it to school, pointed it, fired and shot his teacher in front of other students,” the chief said. “I have a young teacher who suffered a gunshot wound while teaching her classroom. By the grace of God, she’s still with us today.”

 

 

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This is exactly the same problem my niece has with one of her students in her first grade class - Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/oppositional-defiant-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20375831

Our schools are not set up to deal with this sort of thing. My niece is burned out and about to quit.

School downplayed warnings about 6-year-old before teacher’s shooting, staffers say

January 21, 2023

 

The Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student repeatedly asked administrators for help with the boy but officials downplayed educators’ warnings about his behavior, including dismissing his threat to light a teacher on fire and watch her die, according to messages from teachers obtained by The Washington Post.

The previously unreported incidents raise fresh questions about how Richneck Elementary School in Newport News handled the troubled student before police say he shot Abigail Zwerner as she taught her first-grade class earlier this month. Authorities have called the shooting “intentional” but are still investigating the motive.

Many parents are already outraged over Richneck officials’ management of events before the shooting. Newport News Superintendent George Parker III has said school officials got a tip the boy had a gun that day and searched his backpack, but that staffers never found the weapon before authorities say the 6-year-old shot Zwerner. Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said his department was not contacted about the report that the boy had a weapon before the shooting.

Police and school officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the boy’s disciplinary issues or worrisome behaviors the 6-year-old may have exhibited and how school officials responded, citing the child’s age and the ongoing law enforcement investigation. The boy’s family said in a statement he has an “acute disability,” but James Ellenson, an attorney for the family, declined to comment on accounts of the boy’s behavior or how it was handled by the school.

School district spokeswoman Michelle Price said in a phone interview late Friday that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law protecting students’ privacy, prohibits her from releasing information related to the 6-year-old.

“I cannot share any information in a child’s educational record,” she said. “A lot of what you’re asking is part of the child’s educational record, and it’s also a matter of an ongoing police investigation and an internal school investigation. Unfortunately, some of these details I’m not even privy to.”

Screenshots of a conversation held online between school employees and Parker shortly after the shooting show educators claiming that Zwerner raised alarms about the 6-year-old and sought assistance during the school year.

“she had asked for help,” one staffer wrote in that chat, referring to Zwerner.

“several times,” came another message.

“Yes she did.”

“two hours prior”

“all year.”

The messages, which were provided to The Post by the spouse of a Richneck Elementary schoolteacher, do not detail what specific assistance Zwerner sought, or to whom she directed her requests. Zwerner and her family have not returned repeated messages from The Washington Post.

A separate message written by a Richneck teacher, and obtained by The Washington Post from the local teachers union, alleges that school administrators waved away grave concerns about the 6-year-old’s conduct and that the school was overall unable to care for him properly.

The Post obtained the message on the condition the teacher’s identity not be revealed because the union feared she would face retaliation. The teacher declined interview requests through the union, the Newport News Education Association, citing worries of professional consequences and a directive from Newport News schools not to talk to the media about the shooting.

On one occasion, the boy wrote a note telling a teacher he hated her and wanted to light her on fire and watch her die, according to the teacher’s account. Alarmed, the teacher brought the note to the attention of Richneck administrators and was told to drop the matter, according to the account. The date of the incident was not mentioned.

The principal and vice principal of the school did not respond to requests for comment on the teacher’s account.

On a second occasion, the boy threw furniture and other items in class, prompting students to hide beneath their desks, according to the account. Another time, the teacher alleges in her account, the boy barricaded the doors to a classroom, preventing a teacher and students from leaving. (My niece told an identical story.)

The teacher banged on the classroom door until another teacher from across the hall forced it open from the outside, according to the teacher’s account. It was not clear whether the teacher asked for any specific action from administrators after that incident.

The teacher also described strained resources at the school. The lead special education teacher was frustrated because she has a high caseload, according to the account. Some aides regularly missed work, including for as long as a week at a time.

The teacher further alleged in her account that the boy was not receiving the educational services he needed, that it was difficult to get help with him during outbursts and that he was sometimes seen wandering the school unsupervised.

The boy’s family said in a statement Thursday, the first public remarks his relatives have given about the shooting, that the 6-year-old was “under a care plan” that “included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” That stopped the week of the shooting, the statement said.

“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the statement read.

The teacher’s account dovetails with descriptions of the student’s behavior shared by the spouse of a Richneck teacher and a mother whose child is enrolled in a class located across the hallway from Zwerner’s. Both the spouse and the mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their families’ privacy, said the student was known campuswide for disruptive and violent behavior, and that school employees struggled to manage him in class.

The Post reached out to dozens of other Richneck teaching staff, administrators and parents to try to corroborate the teachers’ allegations, but most have not responded or declined interviews, citing the ongoing police investigation or fear of reprisals.

Drew, the police chief, has said detectives will look into allegations of the student’s troubling conduct before the incident, though he has not confirmed any specific incidents.

James Graves, president of the Newport News Education Association, said the union is investigating safety concerns raised by teachers in the wake of the shooting.

“We want to know what happened so we can protect our members,” Graves said. “They believe and they know the administration should take their concerns more seriously than they did. This could have been prevented.”

Thomas Britton, whose son was taught by Zwerner, said school officials never formally notified parents in the class about issues with the boy who fired the shot.

He said administrators mishandled the shooting, asserting they should have pulled the boy out of class until they had definitively determined whether he possessed a gun, and conducted a more thorough search.

“That was a shocking revelation that not only did he bring the weapon, but somebody gave a tip he had the weapon,” Britton said. “It seems to me it would be completely avoidable at that point.”

Valerie McCandless, a 52-year-old resident of Newport News who sent six kids to Richneck, said her children had a wonderful experience at the school, but she is troubled that the school’s administrators, some of whom she said are relatively new, failed to take preemptive action.

“I don’t think the teachers there are getting support, they’re not getting compassion, they’re not getting answers, they’re not getting listened to,” she said, adding of the shooting, “this was, I believe, God’s way of saying somebody needs to listen to them.”

Similar concerns emerged this week at a packed Newport News school board meeting, during which dozens of parents recounted their disappointment, anger and frustration with security measures at Richneck and other schools in the district. There have been three shootings on school grounds in Newport News since late 2021.

Several teachers said they received no support when they faced violence in the classroom or attacks from students. Some speakers claimed the district is more interested in keeping discipline statistics low than in taking meaningful action to address students’ problems.

A parent of a child in Zwerner’s class said her daughter had been bullied by classmates. She said she struggled to make the school take her concerns seriously and that the Richneck principal once failed to show for a conference about the bullying, although other officials did come.

She said Zwerner defended her daughter.

“Listen to your teachers when they have concerns,” the woman said raising her voice. “Please!”

Parker, the superintendent, said at a meeting with Richneck students that the district is purchasing 90 metal detectors to install at all Newport News schools and acquiring clear backpacks to hand out to students. He has assigned a new administrator to Richneck and also said officials were taking note of teachers’ concerns.

“We listened and we continue to work to improve current systems and processes to help better manage extreme behaviors that adversely affect the culture and climate in schools,” Parker wrote in a note to staff this week.

Celeste Holliday, a substitute teacher who covered Zwerner’s first-grade class at Richneck Elementary School on one occasion, said Zwerner had difficulty maintaining order in the class of 25 to 30 kids, but Holliday thought she was a conscientious teacher.

“She was great. She was doing the best she could,” Holliday said of Zwerner. “She mentally prepared me. She told me, ‘They’re rambunctious 6-year-olds. It’s going to be a hard day. Do the best you can.’”

Zwerner’s warning proved prescient.

Holliday said the class was rowdier than many others for which she has substituted. Holliday said that, on the day she worked at Richneck, one boy shoved another during recess and the boy scraped his knee. The injured boy had to go to the nurse’s office for treatment.

Afterward, the principal came to the classroom and told the boys to calm down because they were shouting, Holliday said. The principal filed a report about the shoving incident. Holliday said that, after the experience, she decided she would not substitute at Richneck Elementary School again.

Drew said in his online chat that detectives have wrapped up interviews with most students but are still seeking school disciplinary records and other materials related to the boy.

When the probe is complete, Drew said the findings will be sent to the Newport News commonwealth’s attorney to decide whether anyone should be charged. Legal experts say it is unlikely the boy will be charged since children under 7 are presumed unable to form the intent to carry out an illegal act under Virginia law. But Drew has said it is possible someone could be charged for failing to secure the gun used in the shooting.

Ellenson, the attorney for the boy’s family, said in an interview that the gun was secured with a trigger lock and kept on the top shelf of the mother’s bedroom closet. Ellenson said it is unclear how the boy got hold of the gun.

Newport News police declined to comment on the family’s characterization that the weapon was stored securely.

The Jan. 6 shooting occurred as school was winding down for the week. Police said the boy pulled out the gun as Zwerner was teaching and shot her.

Zwerner was rushed to the hospital with critical injuries; Drew said she is continuing to recover. Police said the boy brought the gun from home in a backpack.

The boy’s family said in their statement he is in a hospital receiving treatment and expressed sorrow for the shooting.

“We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned,” the statement read. “At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2023/01/21/richneck-elementary-school-shooting-warnings-downplayed/

 

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21 hours ago, homersapien said:

This is exactly the same problem my niece has with one of her students in her first grade class - Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/oppositional-defiant-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20375831

Our schools are not set up to deal with this sort of thing. My niece is burned out and about to quit.

School downplayed warnings about 6-year-old before teacher’s shooting, staffers say

January 21, 2023

 

The Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student repeatedly asked administrators for help with the boy but officials downplayed educators’ warnings about his behavior, including dismissing his threat to light a teacher on fire and watch her die, according to messages from teachers obtained by The Washington Post.

The previously unreported incidents raise fresh questions about how Richneck Elementary School in Newport News handled the troubled student before police say he shot Abigail Zwerner as she taught her first-grade class earlier this month. Authorities have called the shooting “intentional” but are still investigating the motive.

Many parents are already outraged over Richneck officials’ management of events before the shooting. Newport News Superintendent George Parker III has said school officials got a tip the boy had a gun that day and searched his backpack, but that staffers never found the weapon before authorities say the 6-year-old shot Zwerner. Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said his department was not contacted about the report that the boy had a weapon before the shooting.

Police and school officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the boy’s disciplinary issues or worrisome behaviors the 6-year-old may have exhibited and how school officials responded, citing the child’s age and the ongoing law enforcement investigation. The boy’s family said in a statement he has an “acute disability,” but James Ellenson, an attorney for the family, declined to comment on accounts of the boy’s behavior or how it was handled by the school.

School district spokeswoman Michelle Price said in a phone interview late Friday that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law protecting students’ privacy, prohibits her from releasing information related to the 6-year-old.

“I cannot share any information in a child’s educational record,” she said. “A lot of what you’re asking is part of the child’s educational record, and it’s also a matter of an ongoing police investigation and an internal school investigation. Unfortunately, some of these details I’m not even privy to.”

Screenshots of a conversation held online between school employees and Parker shortly after the shooting show educators claiming that Zwerner raised alarms about the 6-year-old and sought assistance during the school year.

“she had asked for help,” one staffer wrote in that chat, referring to Zwerner.

“several times,” came another message.

“Yes she did.”

“two hours prior”

“all year.”

The messages, which were provided to The Post by the spouse of a Richneck Elementary schoolteacher, do not detail what specific assistance Zwerner sought, or to whom she directed her requests. Zwerner and her family have not returned repeated messages from The Washington Post.

A separate message written by a Richneck teacher, and obtained by The Washington Post from the local teachers union, alleges that school administrators waved away grave concerns about the 6-year-old’s conduct and that the school was overall unable to care for him properly.

The Post obtained the message on the condition the teacher’s identity not be revealed because the union feared she would face retaliation. The teacher declined interview requests through the union, the Newport News Education Association, citing worries of professional consequences and a directive from Newport News schools not to talk to the media about the shooting.

On one occasion, the boy wrote a note telling a teacher he hated her and wanted to light her on fire and watch her die, according to the teacher’s account. Alarmed, the teacher brought the note to the attention of Richneck administrators and was told to drop the matter, according to the account. The date of the incident was not mentioned.

The principal and vice principal of the school did not respond to requests for comment on the teacher’s account.

On a second occasion, the boy threw furniture and other items in class, prompting students to hide beneath their desks, according to the account. Another time, the teacher alleges in her account, the boy barricaded the doors to a classroom, preventing a teacher and students from leaving. (My niece told an identical story.)

The teacher banged on the classroom door until another teacher from across the hall forced it open from the outside, according to the teacher’s account. It was not clear whether the teacher asked for any specific action from administrators after that incident.

The teacher also described strained resources at the school. The lead special education teacher was frustrated because she has a high caseload, according to the account. Some aides regularly missed work, including for as long as a week at a time.

The teacher further alleged in her account that the boy was not receiving the educational services he needed, that it was difficult to get help with him during outbursts and that he was sometimes seen wandering the school unsupervised.

The boy’s family said in a statement Thursday, the first public remarks his relatives have given about the shooting, that the 6-year-old was “under a care plan” that “included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” That stopped the week of the shooting, the statement said.

“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the statement read.

The teacher’s account dovetails with descriptions of the student’s behavior shared by the spouse of a Richneck teacher and a mother whose child is enrolled in a class located across the hallway from Zwerner’s. Both the spouse and the mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their families’ privacy, said the student was known campuswide for disruptive and violent behavior, and that school employees struggled to manage him in class.

The Post reached out to dozens of other Richneck teaching staff, administrators and parents to try to corroborate the teachers’ allegations, but most have not responded or declined interviews, citing the ongoing police investigation or fear of reprisals.

Drew, the police chief, has said detectives will look into allegations of the student’s troubling conduct before the incident, though he has not confirmed any specific incidents.

James Graves, president of the Newport News Education Association, said the union is investigating safety concerns raised by teachers in the wake of the shooting.

“We want to know what happened so we can protect our members,” Graves said. “They believe and they know the administration should take their concerns more seriously than they did. This could have been prevented.”

Thomas Britton, whose son was taught by Zwerner, said school officials never formally notified parents in the class about issues with the boy who fired the shot.

He said administrators mishandled the shooting, asserting they should have pulled the boy out of class until they had definitively determined whether he possessed a gun, and conducted a more thorough search.

“That was a shocking revelation that not only did he bring the weapon, but somebody gave a tip he had the weapon,” Britton said. “It seems to me it would be completely avoidable at that point.”

Valerie McCandless, a 52-year-old resident of Newport News who sent six kids to Richneck, said her children had a wonderful experience at the school, but she is troubled that the school’s administrators, some of whom she said are relatively new, failed to take preemptive action.

“I don’t think the teachers there are getting support, they’re not getting compassion, they’re not getting answers, they’re not getting listened to,” she said, adding of the shooting, “this was, I believe, God’s way of saying somebody needs to listen to them.”

Similar concerns emerged this week at a packed Newport News school board meeting, during which dozens of parents recounted their disappointment, anger and frustration with security measures at Richneck and other schools in the district. There have been three shootings on school grounds in Newport News since late 2021.

Several teachers said they received no support when they faced violence in the classroom or attacks from students. Some speakers claimed the district is more interested in keeping discipline statistics low than in taking meaningful action to address students’ problems.

A parent of a child in Zwerner’s class said her daughter had been bullied by classmates. She said she struggled to make the school take her concerns seriously and that the Richneck principal once failed to show for a conference about the bullying, although other officials did come.

She said Zwerner defended her daughter.

“Listen to your teachers when they have concerns,” the woman said raising her voice. “Please!”

Parker, the superintendent, said at a meeting with Richneck students that the district is purchasing 90 metal detectors to install at all Newport News schools and acquiring clear backpacks to hand out to students. He has assigned a new administrator to Richneck and also said officials were taking note of teachers’ concerns.

“We listened and we continue to work to improve current systems and processes to help better manage extreme behaviors that adversely affect the culture and climate in schools,” Parker wrote in a note to staff this week.

Celeste Holliday, a substitute teacher who covered Zwerner’s first-grade class at Richneck Elementary School on one occasion, said Zwerner had difficulty maintaining order in the class of 25 to 30 kids, but Holliday thought she was a conscientious teacher.

“She was great. She was doing the best she could,” Holliday said of Zwerner. “She mentally prepared me. She told me, ‘They’re rambunctious 6-year-olds. It’s going to be a hard day. Do the best you can.’”

Zwerner’s warning proved prescient.

Holliday said the class was rowdier than many others for which she has substituted. Holliday said that, on the day she worked at Richneck, one boy shoved another during recess and the boy scraped his knee. The injured boy had to go to the nurse’s office for treatment.

Afterward, the principal came to the classroom and told the boys to calm down because they were shouting, Holliday said. The principal filed a report about the shoving incident. Holliday said that, after the experience, she decided she would not substitute at Richneck Elementary School again.

Drew said in his online chat that detectives have wrapped up interviews with most students but are still seeking school disciplinary records and other materials related to the boy.

When the probe is complete, Drew said the findings will be sent to the Newport News commonwealth’s attorney to decide whether anyone should be charged. Legal experts say it is unlikely the boy will be charged since children under 7 are presumed unable to form the intent to carry out an illegal act under Virginia law. But Drew has said it is possible someone could be charged for failing to secure the gun used in the shooting.

Ellenson, the attorney for the boy’s family, said in an interview that the gun was secured with a trigger lock and kept on the top shelf of the mother’s bedroom closet. Ellenson said it is unclear how the boy got hold of the gun.

Newport News police declined to comment on the family’s characterization that the weapon was stored securely.

The Jan. 6 shooting occurred as school was winding down for the week. Police said the boy pulled out the gun as Zwerner was teaching and shot her.

Zwerner was rushed to the hospital with critical injuries; Drew said she is continuing to recover. Police said the boy brought the gun from home in a backpack.

The boy’s family said in their statement he is in a hospital receiving treatment and expressed sorrow for the shooting.

“We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned,” the statement read. “At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2023/01/21/richneck-elementary-school-shooting-warnings-downplayed/

 

My daughter teaches and this is what I fear and pray about all the time.

 

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On 1/22/2023 at 9:01 AM, DKW 86 said:

My daughter teaches and this is what I fear and pray about all the time.

 

Teachers and police officers are on the front lines of our country's mental health problems.

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9 hours ago, homersapien said:

Teachers and police officers are on the front lines of our countries mental health problems.

Sincerely, we as a society keep coming back to Mental Health issues. Shooters, gun assaults, problems in the classrooms, Defund the Police, all point to one commonality that we in the US have underfunded and understaffed the profession of MH Professionals. It is not right that we force dealing with MH Patients on to Policemen and Teachers.

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On 1/22/2023 at 12:00 PM, homersapien said:

Teachers and police officers are on the front lines of our countries mental health problems.

Better add in Allied Health/EMS to that statement. It’s a real burden on medics around the country. 

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17 hours ago, DKW 86 said:

Sincerely, we as a society keep coming back to Mental Health issues. Shooters, gun assaults, problems in the classrooms, Defund the Police, all point to one commonality that we in the US have underfunded and understaffed the profession of MH Professionals. It is not right that we force dealing with MH Patients on to Policemen and Teachers.

It started with Reagan.

https://www.salon.com/2013/09/29/ronald_reagans_shameful_legacy_violence_the_homeless_mental_illness/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_Health_Systems_Act_of_1980

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2 hours ago, autigeremt said:

Better add in Allied Health/EMS to that statement. It’s a real burden on medics around the country. 

True. 

I saw an interview with a mayor who formally changed the name of the fire department to the department of fires/(emergency?) medical response and the name of the police department to the department of law enforcement and mental health response. (Or something equivalent.)

https://www.fox43.com/article/news/local/mental-health-emergencies-law-enforcement-pennsylvania/521-26856bbc-06ee-4dea-a852-bfa77ee6a6c2

Study: Mental health emergencies make up 20% of calls to law enforcement

 
 
I think the combined responsibilities of EMS / fire departments has been common longer than mental health and the police.  No doubt all first responder resources have to deal with it.
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https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/25/us/newport-news-virginia-school-board-superintendent-vote/index.html

 

 

Quote

 

Teacher allegedly shot by 6-year-old warned Newport News school officials child had a gun, her lawyer says

 

Updated 1:18 PM EST, Wed January 25, 2023
 
 

Abby Zwerner, the teacher who was allegedly shot by a 6-year-old at an elementary school in Newport News, Virginia, warned school administrators the day of the shooting that the child had a gun, according to her lawyer.

“Abby and these other teachers at Richneck Elementary School tried to do the right thing on January 6,” attorney Diane Toscano said in a news conference Wednesday, alleging administrators were warned three times over the course of a few hours that “the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people.”

“But the administration could not be bothered,” Toscano said, telling reporters she intends to file a lawsuit on Zwerner’s behalf.

“This tragedy was entirely preventable if the school administrators responsible for school safety had done their part and taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger,” Toscano said. “But instead they failed to act and Abby was shot.”

CNN has reached out to the school district for comment on Toscano’s claims, which come the same day the Newport News school board is planning to vote on whether to oust the district’s superintendent following the shooting nearly three weeks ago.

A 6-year-old boy was taken into custody January 6 after he brought his mother’s legally purchased gun to the school in his backpack and shot his first grade teacher, Abby Zwerner, police said at the time.

Zwerner, 25, was initially in critical condition and later stabilized before being released from the hospital after a bullet went through her hand and into her chest inside her classroom. Police have said the shooting was intentional.

Since the shooting, the school board has had several meetings, including a heated one last week where members faced backlash from parents. The school board also met in a closed discussion Tuesday after which they decided to host a special meeting Wednesday.

Members are slated to discuss – and likely approve – in Wednesday’s meeting a separation agreement and severance with Superintendent George Parker III, according to the agenda posted on the school board’s website.

Board members are also planning to discuss the appointment of an interim superintendent.

CNN has reached out to Parker’s office for comment.

The school will reopen January 30, nearly a month after the shooting, school officials confirmed to CNN in an email earlier this week.

During the intense board meeting with parents on January 17, emotions were high as frustrated parents spoke about the fear and anxiety their children have been enduring since the gun violence. At least one parent called on the superintendent’s position to be reevaluated.

Community members pack into the Newport News Public Schools Administration building on January 17 in Newport News, Virgina, during a public comment period.
Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot/AP

“Why did it take negative national attention before you took this seriously and actually reevaluated?” the parent asked. “I think it’s time the citizens and parents of Newport News who did not elect you to reevaluate your services as our, our superintendent.”

The shooting came as America continues to grapple with the ubiquitous issue of gun violence permeating many public spaces around the country.

The shooting at Richneck Elementary was the first of 2023 at a US school, according to a CNN analysis. In 2022, there were 60 shootings at K-12 schools, the CNN analysis shows.

Still, school shootings by a suspect so young are very rare.

There have been three other cases in which the suspect was as young as 6: in 2000, 2011 and 2021, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, which has tracked shootings in American schools since 1970.

Student suffers from acute disability, family says

The shooting at the elementary school happened after an altercation between the teacher and the student, who pointed the gun at the teacher and fired a single round, said Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew.

“There was no physical struggle or fight,” Drew said at the time, adding no other students were involved.

The boy was placed under temporary detention order and was evaluated at a local hospital.

Nearly two weeks after the shooting, the boy’s family released their first statement, expressing praise for the teacher.

“Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school,” the family said in the statement released through attorney James Ellenson.

The family pointed out their son suffers from a disability, and he was receiving care at the school.

“Our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to Class every day,” the family statement says.

The family also said the gun allegedly used was secured before the shooting. They said a family member usually went to class with him, but not the week of the shooting.

“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family statement said.

Meanwhile, the police chief has indicated the boy’s mother could possibly face charges in the shooting.

“And at the end of the day, when that’s all compiled together and the facts and what the law supports, the Commonwealth’s attorney will make the decision if there are any charges forthcoming … towards the parents,” Drew said.

Under Virginia law, it’s a misdemeanor for an adult leaves a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a way it could endanger a child under the age of 14. It is prohibited for a person to unknowingly allow a child under the age of 12 to use a firearm.

 

 

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https://www.woodtv.com/news/nexstar-media-wire/staff-shakeup-in-virginia-school-district-where-first-grader-shot-teacher/

 

 

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Staff shakeup in Virginia school district where first-grader shot teacher

 

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