Three Warnings? You’re Out of a Job.

by Kerry Dougherty

Unbelievable. If what Abby Zwerner’s lawyer said yesterday in her press conference is true, it wasn’t enough to sack only the superintendent of Newport News Public Schools over the near-fatal shooting of a first-grade teacher by an armed 6-year-old. A host of other indifferent school administrators need to join him in the unemployment ranks.

Oh, and they all need to buckle up for legal proceedings that could blow the roof off that dysfunctional school system.

Here, watch for yourself. I’ll wait:

Diane Toscano is not an ambulance-chasing lawyer. She’s a well-respected, experienced Virginia Beach attorney who once worked as a prosecutor. She just notified Newport News of her intention to sue on behalf of the wounded teacher, which may be part of the reason the school board decided yesterday to fire George Parker, the city’s school superintendent.

Toscano knows the law and seems confident that the chronic apathy that infected administrators at Richneck Elementary School will be enough to take this case out of the Workman’s Compensation meager coverage and open the schools to full liability for Zwerner’s injuries.

I wish Toscano and her client success. Sometimes the only way to get the attention of fat and happy do-nothing soft-on-wrongdoers bureaucrats is to sue the britches off of them when their lethargy results in great harm.

By all accounts school officials in Newport News have routinely ignored teachers begging for help in maintaining discipline in their classrooms.

But for the love of God, when teachers come to school administrators and say they have reason to believe a student has a gun on school property and that he wants to hurt people school brass should at least pick up the phone and summon the police.

That didn’t happen at Richneck Elementary on January 6th, where Toscano says administrators were “paralyzed by apathy” and did absolutely nothing to prevent the near-fatal shooting of a teacher.

The first complaint was lodged that morning at about 11:15 by Zwerner herself, who said the boy in question was threatening to beat up another student.

Next a teacher told administrators that a crying student told her this kid showed him the gun he was packing and threatened to shoot the other child if he tattled.

Another teacher told administrators that it was believed the child had a gun, but that she was told it was late in the day, not to worry about it.

Well, the teachers WERE worried. So were some students. But, according to Toscano, the administration slumbered on.

Surely by now rumors of a gun on campus are taken seriously at most schools. Why would any school official gamble that rumors were false? Common sense would dictate the school administrators err on the side of caution, on the side of protecting students and faculty.

Unless, of course, it is school policy to sweep discipline problems under the rug and pretend all is well.

Firing the superintendent last night amounts to nothing more than an empty gesture if others in administration who demonstrated indifference to an armed student on campus don’t follow Parker out the door.

More importantly, the school district must immediately institute a strict zero-tolerance policy for discipline problems and stand behind their teachers who are struggling to maintain order in their classrooms.

A successful lawsuit by a dedicated teacher who nearly lost her life while teaching children how to read may be just what Newport News Public Schools needs right now.

This column ran first in Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited and is republished with permission.