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Principal at Virginia school where 6-year-old shot teacher removed as students return to class

Students returned to Richneck Elementary School for the first time with two metal detectors, two permanent school division security officers and clear backpacks.
/ Source: NBC News

The principal of the Richneck Elementary School in Virginia, where a 6-year-old boy shot his first-grade teacher, has been removed from her post as children return to classes Monday, Jan. 30 for the first time since the shooting with new security protocols.

Briana Foster Newton, who was principal at the time of the Jan. 6 shooting, is no longer serving in that role, but is still employed by the Newport News Public Schools, district spokesperson Michelle Price said Monday. It’s not clear what her new role is.

Her exit marks the latest in a sweep of departures in the wake of the shooting that saw first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner, 25, seriously wounded in a hand and her chest and hospitalized.

Assistant Principal Dr. Ebony Parker resigned, Price said Friday. The school system’s superintendent, George Parker III, was ousted from his job on Wednesday in a 5-1 vote at a school board meeting, effective Feb. 1.

Abigail Zwerner
Abigail Zwerner.Abby Zwerner via Facebook

With the departures of the principal and assistant principal, Karen Lynch, the district’s Extended Learning Supervisor and an experienced elementary school principal, will serve as the administrator on special assignment at Richneck, coordinating the students’ return to learning, Price said.

With the impending exit of Parker, the school board voted to name Dr. Michele Mitchell as the interim Superintendent of Schools to oversee the district of about 26,500 students. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Student Advancement for Newport News Public Schools, the district said.

Back to school: clear backpacks, metal detectors and security officers

School will look a little different for Richneck students returning Monday.

Two permanent school division security officers will be present, two metal detector systems have been installed, doors have been installed in classroom areas without one, and all students will receive clear backpacks Monday, according to the district.

Emotional support services for students, families and staff will continue including in-person services. 

Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 6, 2023.
Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 6, 2023.Billy Schuerman / The Virginian-Pilot via Getty Images

Teacher recovering, lawsuit will be filed

Police hailed Zwerner as a hero saying she was intentionally shot, and despite her wounds, she still managed to safely escort about 20 students out of her classroom.

She was released from the hospital earlier this month and continues to recover.

On Wednesday, Zwerner’s attorney Diane Toscano announced she will file a lawsuit on her client’s behalf. Toscano said that three teachers went to the school administration about the boy’s behavior on Jan. 6, saying he was believed to have a gun on the campus, but those concerns weren’t taken seriously. 

In one incident between a teacher flagging concern and administrator, an administrator said, “wait the situation out because the school day was almost over,” Toscano said.

No charges have been announced in the case.

Police Chief Steve Drew has said that the child’s mother bought the 9 mm Taurus firearm used in the shooting legally and that the boy took the gun from his home. Whether it was properly secured is a key element in the investigation, he has said.

The family of the boy who shot Zwerner said in a statement the child “suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school” that included his mother or father attending class with him.

The statement said the gun was “secured” when he took it from their home but didn’t go into further detail.

“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,” the statement said. Since the shooting, the boy has been in a hospital receiving the “treatment he needs,” it said.

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