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Principal at Virginia school where 6-year-old shot teacher removed as students return to class

Students returned to Richneck Elementary School for the first time Monday with two metal detectors, two permanent school division security officers and clear backpacks.
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The principal of Richneck Elementary School in Virginia, where a 6-year-old boy shot his first grade teacher, has been removed from her post as children return to classes Monday for the first time since the shooting with new security protocols.

Briana Foster Newton, who was principal at the time of the Jan. 6 shooting, is no longer in that role but is still employed by Newport News Public Schools, district spokesperson Michelle Price said Monday. It's not clear what her new role is.

Her exit is the latest in a sweep of departures in the wake of the shooting, in which first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner, 25, was seriously wounded in a hand and her chest and hospitalized.

Abigail Zwerner
Abigail Zwerner.Abby Zwerner via Facebook

Assistant Principal Ebony Parker resigned, Price said Friday. The school system’s superintendent, George Parker III, was ousted from Wednesday in a 5-1 vote at a school board meeting, effective Wednesday.

With the departures of the principal and the assistant principal, the district's extended learning supervisor, Karen Lynch, an experienced elementary school principal, will be the administrator on special assignment at Richneck, coordinating the students’ return to learning, Price said.

With the impending exit of Parker, the school board voted to name Michele Mitchell as the interim superintendent to oversee the district of about 26,500 students. She is the district’s executive director of student advancement, the district said.

Back to school: Clear backpacks, metal detectors and security officers

School will look a little different for Richneck students returning Monday.

Two permanent school division security officers will be present, two metal detector systems have been installed, doors have been installed in classroom areas without one, and all students will get clear backpacks Monday, according to the district.

Emotional support services for students, families and staff members will continue, including in-person services. 

Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 6, 2023.
Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 6.Billy Schuerman / The Virginian-Pilot via Getty Images

Teacher recovering; lawsuit will be filed

Police hailed Zwerner as a hero, saying she was intentionally shot and despite her wounds still managed to safely escort about 20 students out of her classroom.

She was released from the hospital this month and continues to recover.

On Wednesday, Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, announced she will sue on her behalf. Toscano said that three teachers went to the school administration about the boy’s behavior on Jan. 6, saying he was believed to have a gun on the campus, but that the concerns weren’t taken seriously. 

In one incident between a teacher flagging concern and an administrator, an administrator said to "wait the situation out because the school day was almost over,” Toscano said.

No charges have been announced.

Police Chief Steve Drew has said that the child’s mother bought the 9 mm Taurus firearm used in the shooting legally and that the boy took the gun from his home. Whether it was properly secured is a key element in the investigation, he has said.

The boy's family said in a statement that he "suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school," which included his mother's or his father's attending class with him.

The statement said the gun was “secured” when he took it from their home. It didn’t go into further detail.

"The week of the shooting was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the statement said. Since the shooting, the boy has been in a hospital getting the “treatment he needs," it said.