NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Newport News Public Schools will soon begin the process of transitioning Richneck Elementary students back to the building after a 6-year-old student shot his teacher earlier this month.
Karen Lynch, an administrator on special assignment, outlined Richneck's plan, along with some services available for students and families, in a Thursday message to families.
Her announcement came nearly two weeks after the Jan. 6 shooting, which left first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner seriously hurt. City officials said the shooting was not accidental and that it happened in a classroom while Zwerner was teaching.
A spokesperson for Riverside Health System told 13News Now Thursday that Zwerner was released from Riverside Regional Medical Center earlier this week and is continuing her recovery as an outpatient.
In her message, Lynch invited Richneck students and their families to visit staff and participate in activities at the school on Jan. 25 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The Richneck building will stay closed from Jan. 23 to 25 and all Newport News schools are closed on Jan. 26 and 27. Lynch said the official start date will be announced next week.
Lynch also shared some services available for students and families: emotional support, grab-and-go meals and educational packets for students.
The school system is offering walk-in emotional support services for students and families at Richneck Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. After-hour appointments will be available from 4 to 6 p.m. To make an appointment, call 757-283-7850, ext. 10405.
As of Thursday, families can pick up grab-and-go meals at Richneck consisting of breakfast, lunch and a snack from 12 to 12:30 p.m.
The school system is also providing individualized work packets for students to work on until the school reopens. Those will be available in tubs outside on the school's breezeway starting Friday.
For some parents, this slow transition back to class is welcome new.
"He just wants to see his friends one more last time because there it’s possible that my son will be possibly going to another school," said Richneck father Mark Garcia.
He said work packets aren't enough.
"They’re only giving us packets. This is a 2nd grader, 3rd graders, 4th graders, 5th graders, kindergarten, pre-k. These kids need help. Half of these kids are hungry. Half of these kids don’t even have parents to stay at home with them," Garcia said.
A mother who asked to remain anonymous told 13News Now her daughter is scared to return.
"They don’t feel safe going back to that school. My second grader daughter said, 'Mom they don’t love us because they don’t want us to be safe,'" she said over the phone.
As parents, students and staff are preparing to return to Richneck, it’s important to check in on everyone’s well-being.
Mental health professionals encourage parents to take note of any angry or anxious behaviors in their children.
If they notice changes, they say you should be open and honest with them and let them know it’s okay to talk about their feelings. Try to keep as much of a routine as possible and limit exposure to TV and news as much as possible. Above all else, they say to listen to all of their concerns and fears.