NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Two weeks after police say a 6-year-old shot his teacher, a Virginia delegate wants to make changes to Richneck Elementary School.
Del. Mike Mullin (D-Virginia, 93rd District) introduced a budget amendment for $8 million to support security renovations at two Newport News schools.
“I have to be honest with you, that was one of the toughest days I’ve had in my public life," said Mullin, who vividly remembers the hours after the tragic shooting on Jan. 6.
Mullin, whose district includes parts of Newport News, said the money would specifically address a decades-old school layout, called the open classroom design. The classroom format became popular in the United States in the 1970s and often included open learning spaces without doors or walls.
Mullin said two schools incorporate the layout in the city: Richneck and Dutrow elementary schools.
“At Richneck and Dutrow, a large portion of the classrooms are not enclosed, in the way that modern classrooms are," said Mullin.
This budget amendment would allow Newport News school officials to close the walls and doors of open-format classrooms at the schools. The renovations would also ensure rooms are properly secured and modernized.
Mullin said the school district superintendent and school board members informed him the renovations were needed, and he believes the outdated layout does not meet modern security needs.
“These two schools were built in a very popular open classroom layout at a time when security was not the same sort of concern that it is today," he said.
Newport News police said a student shot his first-grade teacher, Abby Zwerner, inside a classroom. Zwerner, 25, still managed to escort the rest of her class to safety. She was released from the hospital earlier this week, according to Riverside Health officials.
Mullin emphasized Zwerner's classroom had a door and does not follow the open layout. However, several other Richneck classrooms are not enclosed, which raises concerns about possible security risks.
"In light of concerns for security that we all share, we want to make sure that all of our classrooms are as safe as possible," he said.
The funding would not pay for full renovations at either school.
Mullin hopes the General Assembly will support their security concerns.