A first-grade teacher who was shot and injured by her six-year-old student has been fired by the school.
Abby Zwerner, 26, said she received an email last month saying Newport News Public Schools was terminating her contract.
Her lawyers claimed it was because she is suing NNPS and some of its administrators for $40million. But the school argued that the teacher had told bosses she would not be returning so the message was simply procedural.
The email on May 22 read: ‘NNPS has processed a separation of employment for you effective the close of business 06/12/2023.’
Jeffrey Breit, an attorney for Zwerner, referred to the one-page email from HR as a firing.
‘I don’t think you can read this any other way than you’ve been fired. And that’s what she thinks.
‘She doesn’t understand it; there’s no other communication,’ he told local news station WAVY.
According to Michelle Price, spokesman for NNPS, Zwerner had notified the school system in March that she would not be returning to teach.
Price said: ‘The email that Ms. Zwerner received from the Human Resources Department is a confirmation of her separation of service from Newport News Public Schools.
‘Every employee who is separating from the school division receives a similar communication.
‘Ms. Zwerner notified the Human Resources Department that she was resigning from her position as a teacher for NNPS on March 13, 2022.
‘Ms. Zwerner was an employee of Newport News Public Schools until June 12, 2023, the last day of her contract.’
Breit said his client was beyond shocked to receive the email.
‘To say we were shocked is an understatement; we have litigation. They haven’t paid her in a couple of months. They are trying to squeeze her.
‘She has to August 1 to leave or re-sign, (but) they fire her two months early. The only thing I can think, they were trying to put pressure on her because we filed suit.
‘It’s outrageous, as outrageous as I’ve ever seen,’ he said. Breit says Zwerner has not been paid since February.
He alleges the school tried to force her to take workers’ comp, but when she refused, they ceased paying her.
On January 6 of this year, Zwerner was in her classroom at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, when her six-year-old student shot her. She was seriously injured in the incident.
Police ultimately confirmed that the gun used by the child belonged to his mother, Deja Taylor.
Earlier this week, Taylor was in person to face federal charges related to this case.
She pleaded guilty to charges of being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm, and making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm.
Zwerner filed a $40million lawsuit against the Newport News School Board, former Superintendent Dr. George Parker, former Richneck Principal Briana Foster-Newton, and former Richneck Assistant Principal Dr. Ebony Parker.
Parker’s attorneys have asked a judge to dismiss the suit. They are arguing that Zwerner was shot while performing her job, so her injuries are covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Since the shooting, several Richneck employees have resigned from their NNPS positions, including Parker, but this development marks the first notification about Zwerner’s employment status with the school.
Two days prior to the shooting that nearly took Zwerner’s life, the same boy who would shoot her, had smashed her phone and called her a ‘b***h.’
The child – who has not been named – was so troublesome that he’d been removed from the school a year earlier after trying to choke a different teacher, and was supposed to be chaperoned by a parent every day.
On January 6, he was dropped off at the school by his mother. He told other children that morning that he had a firearm in his backpack and staff were also told about it.
Rather than remove him from any classes, the school’s administrators allowed him to be around other children and teachers.
The school checked his backpack for a weapon, but he had already removed it and put it in his sweatshirt at that point, according to Zwerner’s lawsuit.
The vice principal then forbade any teachers from searching the boy himself, according to the lawsuit.
At 1.59pm, he pulled out the gun from his sweater and shot Zwerner in the chest. The bullet hit one of her hands first – which she says saved her life.
Now, she is suing the school for not doing more to protect her and others from the child.
The 20-page lawsuit describes the boy’s past behavior in disturbing detail.
It also claims that his parents would not allow him to attend classes with other special needs kids, despite claiming in the immediate aftermath of the shooting that he has an ‘acute disability’.
‘John Doe had been removed from school during the 2021-2022 school year when he was in kindergarten after he strangled and choked a teacher.
‘Also during the 2021-2022 school year, a female child had fallen on the playground and John Doe came up to her, pulled her dress up and began to touch the child inappropriately until reprimanded by a teacher,’ it reads.
Between 11.15am and 11.30am on the day of the shooting, Zwerner complained to the Assistant Principal Dr. Ebony Parker that he seemed to be in a ‘violent mood’ that day and had been threatening to beat up another child.
The vice principal, however, did nothing, according to the suit.
At 11.45am, two students told a different teacher that the boy had a gun in his backpack.
That teacher approached him and asked him if he had a weapon, the suit says, but he lied. He then refused to give her his bag to check.
The child was then seen removing something from the bag and placing it in his sweatshirt pocket.
When that was reported to the same assistant principal, she said his pockets were too small to hold a handgun.
At around 1.10pm, still concerned that he had the gun on his person, teachers asked for permission to search the boy but the same assistant principal ‘forbade’ them from doing so.
Less than an hour later, he pulled it out of his sweatshirt and shot Zwerner in front of other terrified students.