School downplayed warnings about 6-year-old before teacher shot, staff say

The Virginia teacher who was shot and killed by a 6-year-old student repeatedly asked administrators to help save the boy, but officials played down warnings from educators about his behavior, including dismissing him about setting a teacher on fire and watching her, according to news. The death threats came from the teacher, obtained by The Washington Post.

The previously unreported incident has raised new questions about how Richneck Elementary School in Newport News handled the troubled student after police say he shot and killed Abigail Zwirner earlier this month. Zwerner) while teaching a first-grade class. Authorities said the shooting was “intentional” but are still investigating a motive.

Many parents were already outraged by Richneck officials’ previous management of the incident shooting. Newport News principal George Parker III said school officials had a tip that the boy had a gun that day Zwerner was searched in his backpack, but staff never found a weapon until authorities said the 6-year-old shot Zwerner. Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said his department had no reports of the boy being armed before the shooting.

Police and school officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the boy’s discipline or the worrisome behavior the 6-year-old boy may have exhibited and how school officials responded, citing the child’s age and an ongoing law enforcement investigation. The boy’s family said in a statement that he was “severely disabled,” but the family’s attorney, James Ellenson, declined to comment on the boy’s behavior or how the school handled it.

School district spokeswoman Michelle Price said in a phone interview late Friday that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects the privacy of students, prevents her from releasing information about the 6-year-old.

“I cannot share any information from my child’s education records,” she said. “Many of the questions you’re asking are part of the child’s education records and are the subject of ongoing police investigations and internal school investigations. Unfortunately, some of these details are not even known to me.”

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Screenshots of online conversations between school employees and Parker shortly after the shooting show that the educator claimed Zwirner Warn 6 year olds and ask for help during the school year.

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

“Several times,” came another message.

The messages, provided to The Post by the spouse of the Richneck Elementary School teacher, did not detail what specific help Zwerner had sought or whom she had approached. Zwerner and her family did not respond to repeated messages from The Washington Post.

Another message written by Mr. Richneck, obtained by The Washington Post from the local teachers’ union, said school administrators had serious concerns about the 6-year-old’s behavior and the school’s overall inability to properly care for him.

Authorities have explained a timeline of events that took place after a 6-year-old shot and killed his teacher on Jan. 1. 6 at Richneck Elementary School in Virginia. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Post obtained the information on the condition that the teacher not be identified because the union feared retaliation against her. The teacher declined interview requests through his union, the Newport News Education Association, citing concerns about professional consequences and Newport News schools’ directives not to speak to the media about the shooting.

At one point, according to the teacher, the boy wrote a note telling the teacher that he hated her and wanted to set her on fire and watch her die. The teacher reportedly panicked and took the note to Richneck administrators, who were told to drop the matter. The date of the incident was not mentioned.

The school’s principal and vice-principal did not respond to requests for comment on the teachers’ accounts.

A 6-year-old has been charged with shooting someone at school. He is not the first.

For the second time, the boy reportedly threw furniture and other objects in class, prompting students to hide under their more time, teacher In her account, the boy blocked the classroom door to prevent teachers and students from leaving.

The teacher knocked on the classroom door until another teacher across the hall forcibly knocked According to the teacher, open it from the outside. It was not immediately clear if the teacher asked administrators to take any specific action after that incident.

The teacher also described the school’s strained resources. The lead special education teacher was reportedly frustrated because of her heavy workload. Some assistants were regularly absent from work, up to a week at a time.

The teacher further claimed in her account that the boy did not receive the educational services he needed, had difficulty getting help during emotional outbursts and was sometimes seen wandering the school unsupervised.

The boy’s family said in a statement Thursday’s statement, the first public comments from relatives about the shooting, said the 6-year-old “has a care plan” that “includes his mother or father going to school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” The statement said the shooting stopped the week of the shooting.

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

The teacher’s description matched the description of the student’s behavior by the spouse of a Richneck teacher and a mother whose child attended a class across the hallway from the Zwerner school. Both the spouse and the mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the family’s privacy, said the student was known on campus for disruptive and violent behavior and that school staff had difficulty managing him in the classroom.

The Post contacted dozens of other Richneck staff, administrators and parents to try to corroborate the teachers’ allegations, but most did not respond or declined interviews, citing ongoing police investigations or fear of retaliation.

Police Chief Drew said detectives will investigate allegations of bad behavior by the students before the incident, but he has not yet confirmed any specific incidents.

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

“We want to know what’s going on so we can protect our members,” Graves said. “They believed and they knew the government should have taken their concerns more seriously than they did. It could have been avoided.”

Thomas Britton, whose son was taught by Zwerner, said school officials never formally notified parents in the class about the shooting of the boy.

He said administrators mishandled the shooting, claiming they should have removed the boy from the classroom until they could definitively determine whether he possessed a firearm and conduct a more thorough search.

“It’s a shocking revelation that not only did he bring the weapon, but it was revealed that he had it,” Britton said. “It was, in my opinion, completely avoidable by then.”

Valerie McCandless, a 52-year-old Newport News resident who sent her six children to Richneck, said her children had a wonderful time at school. time, but she was disturbed that the school’s administrators, some of whom she said were relatively new, had failed to take pre-emptive action.

“I don’t think the teachers there are supported, they don’t get empathy, they don’t get answers, they don’t get heard,” she said, adding of the shooting, “I believe this is, the way God speaks needs to be heard.”

Similar concerns arose this week at a Newport News school board meeting, where dozens of parents described their disappointment, anger and frustration with safety measures at Richneck and other schools in the area. Since late 2021, there have been three shootings on Newport News’ campus.

Several teachers said they received no support when they faced violence or student attacks in the classroom. Some speakers claimed that school districts were more interested in keeping discipline statistics low than taking meaningful action to address student problems.

A parent of a child in Zwerner’s class said her daughter had been bullied by classmates. She said she struggled to get the school to take her concerns seriously, and that at one point the Richneck principal did not show up for a meeting about the bullying incident, although other officials did come.

She said Zwerner defended her daughter.

“When teachers have concerns, listen to them,” the woman said, raising her voice. “Please!”

Superintendent Parker, The district is purchasing 90 metal detectors to install at all Newport News schools and purchasing clear backpacks to distribute to students, said a meeting with Richneck students. He has appointed a new administrator for Richneck and said officials are taking note of teachers’ concerns.

“We listen and continue to work hard to improve current systems and processes to help better manage extreme behavior that adversely affects school culture and climate,” Parker wrote in a note to staff this week.

Celeste Holliday, a substitute teacher who instructs Zwerner’s first-grade class at Richneck Elementary School, said Zwerner struggled in a class of 25 to 30 children. Order is maintained in the classroom, but Holliday considers her a conscientious teacher.

“She was great. She did her best,” Holliday said of Zwerner. “She prepared me mentally. She told me, ‘They’re mischievous 6-year-olds. It’s going to be a tough day. Do what you can.'”

Zwerner’s warning proved prescient.

Holliday said the class was noisier than many of the others she replaced. Holliday said that on the day she worked at Richneck, A boy scrapes his knee after pushing another boy during recess. The injured boy had to go to a nurse’s office for treatment.

The principal then came to the classroom and told the boys to calm down because they were yelling, Holliday said. The principal filed a report on the shoving incident. Holliday said she decided not to substitute at Richneck Elementary after the experience.

Detectives have finished interviewing most of the students but are still looking for school disciplinary records and other material related to the boy, Drew said in his online chat.

Once the investigation is complete, Drew said the findings will be sent to Newport News Commonwealth attorneys to decide whether anyone should be charged. Legal experts said the boy was unlikely to be prosecuted because under Virginia law, children under the age of seven are considered incapable of forming an intent to commit an illegal act. But Drew said someone could be charged for failing to secure a firearm used in a shooting.

Ellenson, an 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 a closet in the mother’s bedroom. It’s unclear how the boy got his hands on the gun, Ellenson said.

Newport News police declined to comment on the family’s account of the weapons being safely stored.

January. There were six shootings during school dismissals this week. The boy drew a gun and shot Zwerner while she was teaching, police said.

Zwerner was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries; Drew said she is continuing to recover. The boy brought the gun from his home in a backpack, police said.

The boy’s family said in a statement that he was being treated in hospital and expressed grief over the shooting.

“We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery and for her loved ones, who are undoubtedly disturbed and concerned,” the statement read. “In the meantime, we love our son and please pray for him and our family.”

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