NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A trove of documents obtained by 10 On Your Side shine light on teacher fears and parent warnings before a 6-year-old shot his first grade teacher Abby Zwerner on Jan. 6, and that teachers had long been flagging student behavior and school safety issues.
In an email sent on the night of the shooting, a parent wrote to former Superintendent George Parker III that she had warned the Richneck principal of a threat two days prior to the shooting. She wrote that the principal had called her on subsequent days and assured her the issue was “handled.”
“Yet no notification went out to parents in regards to the potential threat, and to stress gun safety awareness or to ensure their firearms were locked away for preventative measures, and then today there was a shooting. I want to know why,” she wrote.
The woman declined to comment on her email, but said she is speaking with attorneys.
In a different email sent Jan. 8, a teacher wrote to members of the Newport News School Board, critiquing the lack of communication during the hour-long lockdown following the shooting. She told us that she was imagining worst-case scenarios as she and her students waited in the dark. Friends and family outside of the building kept her apprised of news reports as school communication channels remained silent, she said.
“I am upset that, for an hour, I was locked down in my classroom, trying to keep my students silent, infer that the worst was around the corner and any minute we would have a confrontation or need to run,” she wrote. “Why was communication not sent to staff via email that the threat was contained but that we were to remain in lock down until released?”
She continued, stating that the incident is a division-wide issue.
“Myself and many of my fellow teachers do not feel safe at school. Do not feel heard by our superiors. Do not feel supported by or administration. But the teachers under your rule will show up Monday morning, they will show up and be rocks for their students and community.”
Juliane Marse, a retired NNPS assistant principal, wrote to the board about her concerns about the status quo in the school division. She called on Richneck administrators to be fired and that Parker’s resignation be requested immediately.
In an interview this afternoon, Marse told us that issues of student behavior, staff shortages and discipline permeate the entire division. She said teachers are stretched too thin, impacting their ability to enforce discipline.
What Marse said echoes a theme in recent results from a survey conducted last year. A number of teachers wrote about staffing shortages and handling behavioral issues with students.
Of the more than 100 responses from teachers, dozens called out a lack of resources and support from administrators.
“It all begins with discipline,” Marse said. “If there’s not discipline in a classroom, kids aren’t learning. a lot of it stems from the state. Districts have to report their discipline numbers to the state. They have to report their attendance numbers to the state.
“Schools are under tremendous pressure not to add to those discipline numbers. I know that first-hand, I was in charge of discipline at my school. Our numbers were looked at monthly. If they were high, we were sort of pressured as to, ‘Why are your discipline numbers high?'”