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Superintendent of Va. school district where first grader shot his teacher is fired

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have new allegations now in the story of a first grader accused of shooting a teacher in Newport News, Va. An attorney for that teacher says three different teachers warned school administrators that the 6-year-old was armed. Last night, the school board fired the district's top official. Here's Ryan Murphy from our member station WHRO.

RYAN MURPHY, BYLINE: Abby Zwerner was teaching her first grade class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News when one of her students stood up, pointed a handgun and fired. Zwerner was shot in the hand and chest, but still ushered her other students out of the classroom and away from harm. Attorney Diane Toscano represents Zwerner. She says Zwerner and two other teachers warned school leaders about the student on the day of the shooting. They'd heard threats he'd made against other students and were told he had a weapon. Toscano said a teacher searched the child's backpack and didn't find a gun. She told administrators she believed he'd put it in his pocket and went to recess.

DIANE TOSCANO: The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying, and I quote, "Well, he has little pockets."

MURPHY: Another staff member asked the administrator for permission to search the boy. Toscano said the response was hold off, because the school day was almost over. Zwerner was shot before classes got out. Now, she's preparing to sue the school district.

TOSCANO: This tragedy was entirely preventable if the school administrators responsible for school safety had done their part and taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger.

MURPHY: In the weeks since the shooting, teachers in Newport News have said they don't feel safe at school or backed up by their administrators. At a recent school board meeting, current and former staff spoke for hours. They say administrators are not addressing discipline issues and violence, in part over concerns about accreditation. Here's Newport News teacher Nicole Cooke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICOLE COOKE: Teachers, students and other staff members are being hurt. Every day, they're hit. They're bitten. They're beaten. And they're allowed to stay so that our numbers look good.

MURPHY: Last night, the school board fired Superintendent George Parker. As for the 6-year-old who allegedly pulled the trigger, his future is uncertain. He's been evaluated by child psychologists. It's unclear where he is now or what's happening to him. Officials have given no updates on his status. It's unlikely for a child this young to be charged. Police are looking into how the boy got the gun, which was legally owned by his mother. The boy's family released a statement last week saying the weapon had been stored safely.

For NPR News, I'm Ryan Murphy in Newport News, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Murphy

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