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Teachers, community to voice concerns at school board meeting following Richneck shooting

Members of the Newport News school board will meet for a series of meetings. On top of everyone's minds is the shooting at Richneck Elementary.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Students at Richneck Elementary in Newport News are heading into their second week of no school, since a shooting broke out inside a first-grade classroom on Jan. 6.

Their return date to the classroom is still up the in the air, after police said a 6-year-old boy intentionally shot his teacher Abby Zwerner, 25.

"She is continuing to improve every day," Richneck's latest update read in part. 

Cindy Connell teaches the eighth grade at Gildersleeve Middle School in Newport News. Before she takes the podium before school board members Tuesday night, she told 13News Now what she believes needs to happen, so that the school division can move forward.

"I think that educators are very shaken up," Connell said. While she works at another school, she mentioned still feeling a ripple effect from the shooting inside Richneck.

"The school system assumed that if we were not teachers at Richneck that this would not impact us," Connell said. "I think, this, after the prior two shooting incidents in the last 18 months has really hit everyone hard."

Connell is referring to the September 2021 shooting at Heritage High School, which injured two students, as well as a December 2021 shooting outside Menchville High following a basketball game. The latter incident left one Woodside High student dead. 

Superintendent Dr. George Parker III confirmed Thursday at least one administrator knew of a report that the Richneck student in question may have had a weapon. No weapon was found, though, after searching through his backpack on Jan. 6.

"Clearly, we don't have all the information yet. I wonder if we ever will. However, with the information we do have, it seems like steps were not taken that could have been taken," Connell stated, in her opinion. 

Among other measures, School Board Chairman Lisa Surles-Law on Thursday announced the installation of at least one walk-thru metal detector at each school in the division.

She said another news conference this week will go into further detail.

Connell questioned where the funds came from, who will monitor the detectors and how long administrators will maintain them during a phone interview with 13News Now on Monday.

She did, however, praise the move of holding a professional development day down the line, to compile teacher feedback.

"I think that would help. Not too little, too late. But I just wonder why it took us getting to this point to realize we needed to listen to teachers," Connell said.

The Newport News eighth-grade teacher invited fellow educators, concerned parents and other members of the community to speak up at Tuesday night's school board meeting. 

Connell plans to sign up to speak, in an effort to call for change.

"I think that listening to teachers is high up on that list for me. I think that finding a systematic way to deal with extreme behavior problems is a second way," she said. "Behavior issues and issues sometime with administrators are not taken seriously when voiced by teachers." 

The school board will meet at the administration building (12465 Warwick Boulevard) for a work session at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It is supposed to focus on an update on Richneck Elementary, according to an online agenda. 

Members will then enter a closed session at 6 p.m., followed by a regular session at 6:30 p.m. "Citizens complete speaker cards upon arrival at the board meeting," a school division spokesperson wrote 13News Now. 

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