PanamaTimes

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Anger grows in Virginia city where first-grader shot teacher

Anger grows in Virginia city where first-grader shot teacher

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 has percolated 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.

The anger in Newport News is bubbling up during a decadeslong pendulum swing that’s been moving American schools away from suspensions and expulsions, experts say. But some school systems are still seeking a “happy medium” between strict discipline and a gentler approach.

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.”

Zwerner was shot Jan. 6 as she 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 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 last year 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.”

“A school counselor and I were often called to intervene with explosive behaviors,” said Thomas, who served three elementary schools at a time, although not Richneck. “And the administrator would see what was going on and turn around and walk the other way.”

Cindy Connell, a middle school teacher who also addressed the board, told the AP that school system leaders fear angering parents and are too focused on limiting discipline such as suspensions.

They’re afraid, she said, that pulling kids out of the classroom will imperil a school’s accreditation.

“Our administrators are under an intense pressure to make everything appear better than it is in reality,” Connell said.

Zwerner’s shooting did not shock 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.

William Koski, a Stanford law professor and director of the school’s Youth and Education Law Project, said many schools in the US had strict zero-tolerance discipline policies in the 1990s, but began to depart from that approach about a decade later, as concerns grew that suspensions and expulsions were failing to help students, while feeding the school-to-prison pipeline and disproportionately affecting Black children.

“If you get expelled a lot, you are just more likely to head down that path, to not graduate, to end up not being a very productive person,” Koski said.

Educators have shifted to a gentler approach that focuses on creating a safe and positive school climate, while zeroing in on the root causes of behavioral problems.

Koski said he understands the frustrations of teachers in Newport News and elsewhere. He said that some school systems may still be in search of a “happy medium” between the two approaches.

But Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates appear to want to push the pendulum back. A bill filed last month would require the state Department of Education to establish a uniform discipline system for students. It would include criteria for teachers to remove disruptive students from class, while making removal mandatory if the behavior is violent.

Newport News is a racially diverse city of about 185,000 people — about 45 percent white and 41 percent 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 US Navy vessels.

About 15 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to US 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 ... (and) has even made its way into our schools.”

Newport News schools have endured two other shootings in a little over a year.

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 one 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, called for the removal of the school system’s executive leadership and for many more security measures. He also wants the system to change how it addresses bad behavior.

“Students need to be held accountable for their actions, regardless of age or circumstances — not transferred to another school or placed in a different classroom,” he said.

Another parent, David Wilson, said the problem starts at home. But he also questioned the impact of removing children 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.”
Newsletter

Related Articles

PanamaTimes
0:00
0:00
Close
El Salvador's Bitcoin Holdings Reach $350 Million
Teens Forming Friendships with AI Chatbots
WhatsApp Rolls Out Major Redesign
Neuralink's First Brain Implant Experiences Issue
Apple Unveils New iPad Pro with M4 Chip, Misleading AI Claims
OpenAI to Announce Google Search Competitor
Apple Apologizes for Controversial iPad Pro Ad Featuring Instrument Destruction
German politician of the AFD party, Marie-Thérèse Kaiser was just convicted & fined $6,000+
Changpeng Zhao Sentenced to Four Months in Jail
Biden Administration to Relax Marijuana Regulations
101-Year-Old Woman Mistaken for a Baby by American Airlines: Comical Mix-Up during Flight Check-in
King Charles and Camilla enjoying the Inuit voice singing performance in Canada.
New Study: Vaping May Lower Fertility in Women Trying to Get Pregnant
U.S. DOJ Seeks Three-Year Sentence for Binance Founder Changpeng Zhao
Headlines - Thursday, 23 April 2024
Illinois Woman Wins $45M Lawsuit Against Johnson & Johnson and Kenvue for Mesothelioma Linked to Baby Powder
Panama's lates news for Friday, April 19
Creative menu of a Pizza restaurant..
You can be a very successful player, but a player with character is another level!
Experience the Future of Dining: My Visit to an AI-Powered Burger Joint
Stabbing rampage terror attack in Sydney, at least four people killed, early reports that a baby was among those stabbed.
Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel overnight. Israel Reports Light Damage After Iran Launches Large Strike.
I will never get enough of his videos and the pure joy and beauty of these women!!
Scientists at the University of Maryland have developed an "invisibility cloak", for AI using adversarial patterns on a sweater, making the wearer nearly undetectable to standard object detection methods.
Lamborghini Bids Farewell to Its Best-Selling Sports Car: The Huracán
Sam Bankman-Fried Appeals 25-Year Prison Sentence for $8bn FTX Fraud
OJ Simpson, ex-NFL star who was acquitted of murder, dies aged 76
British Backpacker Imprisoned in Notorious Bolivian Prison: Family Raises Funds for Legal Fight and Essentials
Argentina: Venezuela Cuts Power to Embassy after Opposition Meeting
El Salvador Offers 5,000 Passports to Skilled Foreign Workers: Tax-Free Relocation and Citizenship
Panama Papers Trial Begins: Founders of Mossack Fonseca Face Money-Laundering Charges
75 Becomes the New 65: Retiring in Your 60s Unrealistic as Life Expectancy Increases and Costs Rise
Total Solar Eclipse of 2021: 32 Million Witness the Mystical, $1.5bn Spectacle Sweep Across North America
New shopping experience…
New world, new reality, let’s get used to it
UK Company Passes Milestone in Developing Space-Based Solar Power, Aiming to Power a Million Homes and Provide Constant Energy
Mexico Breaks Diplomatic Ties with Ecuador after Police Storm Embassy, Arrest Former Vice President
Monty Python were so ahead of their time
If there's a will, there's a way!
Rules about how to dress are important, but not so much if you have a lot of money.
Body Armor Firm Showcases Stab-Proof Vest in Demo on CEO
Mexico Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Ecuador After Embassy Stormed in Quito
Here is a tattoo idea, for engineers
Zoraya Ter Beek, a 28-year-old woman from the Netherlands, will undergo euthanasia in May due to severe mental health challenges
Here's a video featuring Fidel Castro, where he discusses his stance against war and his commitment to preserving life, positions that have put him at odds with the USA:
Woman reaches behind and steals gun from a security guard and shoots three people while getting detained in Chile
Take a walk around the safe and thriving downtown San Salvador.
Joe Biden criticised by Trump campaign for declaring Transgender Day of Visibility on Easter Sunday
Macron says France will help Brazil develop nuclear-powered submarines
A video demonstrating women's self defense class in 1930
×