Virginia school board votes to fire superintendent after 6-year-old allegedly shot teacher

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The superintendent of a Virginia school district where a 6-year-old student allegedly shot an elementary school teacher earlier this month was fired on Wednesday.

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George Parker III, who has been superintendent of Newport News Public Schools since 2018, was terminated by the Newport News School Board by a 5-1 vote, WTKR-TV reported. His last day on the job is Feb. 1, according to the television station.

Members approved a separation agreement with Parker and named Michele Mitchell, the executive director of student advancement, as interim superintendent, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

Parker’s dismissal comes after mounting criticism after the Jan. 6 shooting of first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, according to the newspaper. The shooting is the third on school property in 18 months, The Virginian-Pilot reported. There were shootings in 2021 at Heritage and Menchville high schools, according to the newspaper.

Zwermer was shot in the chest on Jan. 6 after the bullet passed through one of her hands, Newport News Chief of Police Steve Drew told reporters last week. She was released from an area hospital last week, according to WAVY-TV.

Parker’s firing also comes on the same day that Diane Toscano, Zwermer’s attorney, said she intended to file a lawsuit on behalf of the teacher against the school district, WAVY reported.

According to Toscano, administrators at Richneck Elementary had been notified of concerns over the 6-year-old student “multiple times” on the morning of the shooting, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

“Effective Feb. 1, Dr. Parker will be relieved of his duties as superintendent of Newport News Public Schools,” Lisa Surles-Law, the school board’s chairman, said during the meeting, WAVY reported. “It is important that we state that this decision was made without cause, cause being defined in his previous contract, as Dr. Parker is a capable division leader who served Newport News for nearly five years through some extremely challenging circumstances.”

Cindy Connell, a teacher at Gildersleeve Middle School in Newport News, said the vote to fire Parker was necessary and a welcome step for teachers, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

“And I think that it is the first step in what will be a long process in earning back the broken trust between the School Board, teachers and the community that we serve,” Connell told the newspaper.

Ebony Parker, the assistant principal at Richneck Elementary, resigned from her position, the school board also announced, according to WTKR.

The family of the boy accused of shooting Zwermer released a statement on Jan. 19, according to CNN. Family members praised Zwermer and added that the boy has an acute disability.

“Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school,” the family said in the statement, released by attorney James Ellenson, CNN reported. “Our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.

“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”

It was unclear how the child gained access to the weapon, which he brought to school in his backpack, CNN reported.

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