The Virginia first-grade teacher who was shot by her six-year-old student filed a $40 million lawsuit against her local school board, the superintendent of schools, and her school’s assistant principal.
Abby Zwerner was shot on January 6 at Richneck Elementary School, necessitating four surgeries; no one has been charged in the incident.
The lawsuit states that all of the defendants were aware the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, noting an incident from a year before in which the boy “strangled and choked” his kindergarten teacher.
Defendants include the Newport News School Board, former Superintendent George Parker III, former Richneck principal Briana Foster-Newton, and former Richneck assistant principal Ebony Parker.
“All Defendants knew that John Doe attacked students and teachers alike, and his motivation to injure was directed toward anyone in his path, both in and out of school,” the lawsuit declares, according to the Associated Press.
According to the lawsuit, Zwerner visited Parker’s office between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., informing the boy “was in a violent mood” and had threatened to beat up a kindergartener, but Parker “had no response, refusing even to look up at (Zwerner) when she expressed her concerns.”
Amy Kovac, a reading specialist, told Parker that the boy had told students he had a gun, the lawsuit claims, adding that Parker replied, the boy’s “pockets were too small to hold a handgun and did nothing.” The lawsuit says a first-grade boy told a teacher the boy “had shown him a firearm he had in his pocket during recess,” prompting the teacher to tell a music teacher, who informed Parker, who said the backpack had already been searched and “took no further action.” The lawsuit claims Parker forbid a guidance counselor from searching the boy, stating that the boy’s “mother would be arriving soon to pick him up.”
The boy was removed from Richneck and sent to another school in 2021 but was readmitted to Richneck in fall 2022, the lawsuit claims, adding that a modified schedule was implemented for him “because he was chasing students around the playground with a belt in an effort to whip them,” and was cursing staff and teachers.
Foster-Newton’s attorney, Pamela Branch, stated in early February, “It continues to be reported that unidentified school administrators were aware that the 6-year-old student had a gun at school on January 6 and simply failed to act. Mrs. Newton has been assumed to have been one of those administrators. However, this is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is that those who were aware that the student may have had a gun on the premises that day did not report this to Mrs. Newton at all.”
“Mrs. Briana Foster-Newton will vigorously defend any charges brought against her as a part of the lawsuit filed by Ms. Zwerner and respond accordingly,” Branch said after the lawsuit was announced.
James Ellenson, an attorney for the boy’s family, responded to the lawsuit by asserting, “allegations in the complaint in reference to the child and his family should be taken with a large grain of salt.”
A parent of one of the first-grade students told The Daily Mail that Zwerner “screamed at her kids to run away” after she was shot. Sebastian Gonzalez-Hernandez continued, “Even after she’d been shot she was thinking about the safety of her children. My son didn’t see what happened; he heard the gunshot go off, and turned around to see Miss Zwerner on the floor.”
“She is an amazing teacher, so dedicated,” he added. “My son absolutely loves her, and we’re devastated about what’s happened. We are all thinking of her and hoping that she gets better soon.”