NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – The Newport News School Board has filed a motion to keep all documents shared between their attorneys and Abby Zwerner’s legal team private in the $40 million Richneck Elementary School lawsuit.
Zwerner’s attorneys requested a large number of records about school staff, students, and discipline through discovery; however, they say the school board has only returned a limited amount of information to them, arguing that other records they’ve requested are sensitive or irrelevant to the case.
In a motion, the school board told a judge it will release certain records to Zwerner’s attorneys if a protective order is approved, which would keep those records confidential from the public.
“That is not normal procedure in Virginia nor is it appropriate in this case.” Kevin Biniazan, a member of Zwerner’s legal team, said. “The school board is a public body so its plea for blanket confidentiality should have us all concerned.”
Zwerner filed the lawsuit in April, about three months after a 6-year-old student shot her in her first-grade classroom. She was seriously injured when the bullet went through her hand and into her chest. The lawsuit claims at least one Newport News school administrator was warned the student had a gun but failed to act.
There is already a protective order in the case, which prevents attorneys from releasing documents related to the Newport News Police Department’s criminal investigation. The 6-year-old boy’s mother, Deja Taylor, is charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor leaving a loaded gun as to endanger a child. She’s also pleaded guilty two federal crimes involving the purchase of the gun while being a marijuana user.
Zwerner’s legal team said a protective order regarding the criminal investigation is normal procedure.
Zwerner’s attorneys filed a motion asking a judge to compel the school board to share several documents and pieces of information, including the names and addresses of every first-grade teacher in the school system. Zwerner’s attorneys plan to depose all of the first-grade teachers working at Richneck to ask them if they expect to be shot at work. Those attorneys also plan to depose some first-grade students, according to their motion.
Zwerner’s attorneys are also asking for several personnel files, specifically those of the administrators named the lawsuit as well as Zwerner’s own file.
One administrator is former Newport News Superintendent Dr. George Parker III. He was fired following the shooting. Since Parker was terminated without cause he received full salary and benefits until June 30, 2024. Dr. Michele Mitchell was appointed as interim superintendent upon Parker’s firing.
The motion also requested the personnel files of former Richneck Principal Principal Briana Foster-Newton, who claims she was not told about the student having a gun prior to the incident, and former Richneck Assistant Principal Dr. Ebony Parker who the lawsuit alleges was made aware that the 6-year-old student had a gun by several teachers and staff at the school.
Newport News Public Schools announced new leadership at Richneck Elementary school in June. Jacky Barber was named principal and Rhonda Chambers-Harmon is serving as assistant principal. Both positions went into effect on July 1, and both administrators already worked for NNPS.
The school board is arguing that many of the discovery requests are irrelevant due to Zwerner’s injuries being covered under Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. The school board has previously asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit entirely due to this argument. Though, the school board said they would provide the information upon entry of a protective order.