NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott hosted a roundtable with school and community leaders over a week since the shooting at Richneck Elementary in Newport News.

The roundtable was held at Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center in Newport News.

The congressman invited school safety and child development experts, parents, school leaders, and local officials to be a part of the round table. The conversation focused on holistic and evidence-based steps that can help protect students, educators, and schools. 

“We’re trying to go forward with some evidence and research,” Scott said.

Nearly two weeks ago, police say a 6-year old student shot Newport News first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner. The school has not been open since the shooting.

Zwerner’s twin sister set up a GoFundMe account to help with her recovery. Zwerner has now been hailed as a hero by Newport News police after officials say she made sure her students were out of the classroom even after suffering a gunshot wound.

View WAVY’s full coverage of the shooting at Richneck Elementary here.

Watch the full roundtable below.

The roundtable began with the Director of the Social Movement Support Lab, Jim Freeman, who stated that more investments need to be made in health and warfare in order to minimize crime.

Freeman emphasized the importance of “investing in building healthy, nonviolent spaces for children.”

Dr. David Osher, Vice President and Institute Fellow, American Institutes of Research followed up, stating that there are multiple studies to back up the need for investments in social/emotional welfare.

According to Dr. Osher, studies show a 3-level approach to the prevention of school shootings and violence. These levels include:

  • Building a schoolwide foundation
  • Intervening early and providing focused, youth development activities
  • providing culturally responsive, individualized intensive supports

Another researcher, Dewey Cornell from UVA, says prevention is key. He says the vast majority of violence community by youth happens in the community. He says social/emotional and educational support programs work.

Cornell added that removing students from the classroom isn’t one of the most effective tools utilized to help students.

One of the biggest takeaways from research presented highlighted one thing.

“Metal detectors have not been shown to be very effective. If you’re going to shoot somebody, you can shoot them out in the parking lot before you get there. And the fact that the metal detectors have to be staffed,” said Scott.

The focus, based on what was presented today, should be on providing for students’ social, emotional and psychological needs.

Director of Mental Health Service Line Stephanie Osler from CHKD says there’s just one problem.

“We are under-resourced and under-funded with children’s mental health today. And we have to do better. We have to do better by our communities. We have to do better by our schools. We have to be able to offer services to kids where they can actually get access to that care,” said Osler. 

Aside from addressing needs in the community,  also discussed was a need to better inform gun owners about how to responsibly handle their firearm.

Programs like “Be Smart ” from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America could do just that.

“What we need is some place to be able to get like the school board members, the school superintendent, our elected officials to know about this program and help us get us in front of parents and caregivers,” said Ruth Winters from Peninsula Area Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Those in attendance say communities must be made safer to make sure schools remain safe.

“The violence in schools is a function of violence in the community. And so if you’re going to talk about responsibility for that, whether it happened at a school,” said Scott.

Newport News parent Jeanette Richardson was present for Tuesday’s meeting. Her son was shot in front of her home on new year’s day in 2004. 

Since then, she’s advocated for more public involvement to prevent violence in the community. She said what’s on many of minds ahead of Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“Today I’m going to be there and I’m going to be there to listen to see a lot of hot, angry parents come down hard on you. You know that is what’s about to happen,” said Richardson.

She also said her other son was friends with the Menchville High School student who was fatally shot outside the school in 2021.

Richardson says there’s no one person responsible for ending violence.

“It is our whole entire community’s obligation to make sure this never happens again by using all of the resources that we have at our hands,” she said.

Newport News Public Schools Superintendent was present during the roundtable and stated that they are investing in other resources besides metal detectors, including behavior health specialists, to address issues in schools.

Discussions during the roundtable highlighted how schools are short on psychologists, counselors and social workers. Officials say the big problem is not having the available programs, but not having enough people in the schools to run them.

Check for the latest updates.