NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia (AP) — The community reacted with collective shock when a six-year-old boy shot and injured a first-grade teacher in this shipbuilding city near the Virginia coast.
But the sentiment has seeped into outrage from parents, especially teachers, with many school administrators Tuesday night falsely emphasizing attendance and other educational statistics over the safety of their children and staff. was calling
Experts say the outrage in the Newport News boils over during decades of pendulum swings that have kept America’s schools from being suspended or expelled. Still seeking a “happy medium” between gentler approaches.
At a three-hour school board meeting reserved for public comment, Newport News teachers and parents said students who assaulted classmates or staff were routinely allowed to stay in the classroom, with few consequences. rice field. They said the shooting of Abigail Zwerner could have been prevented had it not been for a toxic environment in which teachers’ concerns were systematically ignored.
“Every day at our school, teachers, students and other staff are injured,” high school librarian Nicole Cook told the board. “Every day they are attacked. They are bitten.” They’re being beaten, and they’re allowed to stay so our numbers look good.”
Addressing Superintendent George Parker, Cook said:
Zwerner was shot on January 6 while teaching a first grade class at Richneck Elementary School. According to police, there was no warning or struggle until the 6-year-old boy pointed a gun at the teacher and he fired one.
The bullet went through Zwerner’s hand and hit her in the chest. The 25-year-old kicked her students out of her classroom before being rushed to the hospital.
Newport News Police said the mother of the 6-year-old bought the gun legally, but it was unclear how her son obtained it. Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun in an area accessible to children under the age of 14. This is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and her $2,500 fine. So far, no charges have been filed against the mother.
Community reaction turned to outrage late last week after the superintendent revealed that Rich Neck administrators knew the child may have been carrying a weapon before the shooting. However, despite a search of his bag by staff, no 9mm handgun was found.
Amber Thomas, a former Newport News school psychologist, told the board that Zwerner’s shooting was “totally preventable. Red flags were taken seriously, appropriate procedures were clearly communicated, As long as it’s protected,” he said.
Thomas left the school system last year after working there for 10 years. In an interview with the Associated Press, she “remembered a time when a teacher was assaulted by a student, who faced no disciplinary action at all.”
“The school counselor and I were often called to intervene in explosive behavior,” said Thomas, who is not Richneck but who served in three elementary schools at once. “And the administrator saw what was happening, turned and walked in the opposite direction.”
Middle school teacher Cindy Connell, who also addressed the board, told The Associated Press that school system leaders are too focused on restricting discipline, such as suspensions, for fear of offending parents. said.
They fear that pulling children out of the classroom will jeopardize the school’s accreditation, she said.
“Our managers are under intense pressure to make everything look better than it really is,” says Connell.
Zwerner’s shooting did not shock Connell.
“I have a teacher friend who was beaten, kicked, punched and stabbed with a pencil by a kindergartener,” she said. “So the only difference is that this kid had access to weapons in her home, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you put those two things together for her.”
In a statement released late Wednesday, the Newport News School Board thanked teachers, parents, students and others who “candidly” shared their concerns at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“We listened intently and reflected each speaker’s comments. We know our community wants action, and we are committed to following up on the recommendations and concerns we hear. “In the coming days, weeks and months, the Board of Education will take the necessary steps to restore public confidence in Newport News Public Schools.” I will teach.”
William Koski, a law professor at Stanford University and director of the school’s Youth Education Law Project, said many U.S. schools had strict zero-tolerance policies in the 1990s, but concerns are growing. As time went on, he began to stray from that approach about a decade later. While feeding the school-to-prison pipeline and disproportionately affecting black children, suspensions and expulsions failed to help students.
“If you drop out a lot, you’re more likely to go down that path, never graduate, and end up being a less productive person,” says Koski.
Educators have moved to a gentler approach that focuses on creating a safe and positive school environment while focusing on the root causes of behavioral problems.
Koski said he understands the frustration of teachers at the Newport News and elsewhere. He said some school systems may still be looking for a “happy medium” between the two approaches.
But Republicans in the Virginia House of Representatives seem to want to push the pendulum back. A bill introduced last month would require the state Department of Education to establish a uniform system of discipline for students. Expulsion is mandatory if violent.
Newport News is a racially diverse city of approximately 185,000 people (approximately 45% white and 41% black) located on the James River near the Chesapeake Bay. It is perhaps best known for its sprawling shipyards that build the country’s aircraft carriers and other US Navy vessels.
About 15% of the population lives in poverty, according to US Census data. According to FBI statistics, more than 400 of the nearly 1,000 violent crimes in the city in 2021 involved a handgun or firearm.
“Gun violence has become a constant for our students,” said 8th grade science teacher William Fenker. “This has been a prominent issue in our community for some time…[And]it has permeated our schools.”
Newport News schools have survived two shootings in just over a year.
In September 2021, two 17-year-olds were injured when a 15-year-old boy opened fire after getting into a fight with one of the students in a crowded high school hallway.
Two months after the shooting, an 18-year-old shot dead a 17-year-old in a parking lot after another high school football game. Police said the teenagers exchanged “gestures” before an altercation broke out in the gym.
“Our students wouldn’t be surprised if there were another mass shooting at their school,” Fenker told the board. “They are wondering when and where the next shooting will take place.”
Last week, the school board announced it would install 90 walk-through metal detectors at schools in Newport News, starting with the school where Zwerner was shot.
But that didn’t satisfy many parents at Tuesday night’s board meeting.
Doug Marmon, who has two children in school, called for the removal of administrative leaders in the school system and more security measures. He also hopes to change the way the system deals with bad behavior.
“Students should be held accountable for their actions, regardless of age or circumstances. We will not transfer students to another school or place them in a different classroom,” he said.
Another parent, David Wilson, said the problem starts at home. But he also questioned the impact of excluding children from classrooms.
“We can all do what we want. We can get more kids out of school and send them home,” Wilson said.
“I mean, you just prevented a school shooting and you just caused a 7-Eleven mass shooting,” he said. “You haven’t solved the problem. You have moved the problem from one thing to another.”
Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia.