When students return to the Virginia school where a first-grade teacher was shot by a 6-year-old boy, the campus will be equipped with a metal detector.

The Newport News Public School district announced Thursday that a detector will be installed at Richneck Elementary School, where Abigail Zwerner was shot while teaching.

The school has been closed since Friday’s shooting, but school board president Lisa R. Surles-Law said the campus will reopen with a metal detector.

«Metal detectors will start at Richneck so we can get those students into the building,» Surles-Law said.

A return date has not been determined, a district spokesperson said.

Surles-Law also announced that officials found funding to add metal detectors throughout the district.

«The 90 state-of-the-art metal detectors will be installed at each and every school in our district with some of them having more than one,» Surles-Law said.

It did not disclose the cost of the detectors or a timeline for installation.

More on the Virginia teacher shooting

No students were injured in the shooting and the 6-year-old boy was taken into custody Friday.

A court-ordered temporary detainer was placed on the boy, who is «currently receiving treatment at a medical facility,» authorities said.

Authorities on Thursday declined to release additional details about the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation.

District Superintendent George Parker III said earlier this week that the safety of students and staff was his top priority.

“My board members know how I feel about making our schools look like a prison,” he said.

But, he added, children will not be able to learn well if their safety is compromised.

“This incident right here will make us rethink how we treat our youngest children,” Parker said. “You can justify us reconsidering all metal detectors in all of our buildings. At least that’s an extra layer of support.»

The use of metal detectors is rare in American schools

The use of metal detectors in schools, particularly elementary schools, is still rare, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

During the 2019-2020 school year, less than 2% of public elementary schools conducted random metal detector checks on students. It was 10% for middle schools and 14.8% for high schools.

About 2% of elementary schools required backpacks to be clean, while just over 9% of middle schools and 7% of high schools imposed the requirement, the center said. About 54.6% of primary schools had security personnel present at least once a week; in middle schools it was 81.5% and in high schools it was 84.4%.

Police tape hangs from a sign outside Richneck Elementary School following a shooting on January 7, 2023, in Newport News, Virginia.
Police tape hangs from a sign outside Richneck Elementary School following a shooting on January 7, 2023, in Newport News, Virginia.Jay Paul/Getty Images

«I think she saved lives»

Zwerner was shot and wounded in the hand and chest when the girl pointed a Taurus 9mm handgun at her during class, authorities said this week.

The educator was hailed a hero for escorting her students to safety after she was injured.

The bullet went through Zwerner’s hand and entered his upper chest, «but he was still able to get all of his students out of that classroom,» Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said Monday.

“She made sure every one of those students was safe.

«I think it saved lives, because I don’t know what else could have happened if those kids had stayed in that room.»

‘Your school family misses you immensely’

On Thursday, Surles-Law said Zwerner’s condition was «improving every day.»

«Your school family misses you immensely,» Surles-Law said.

Zwerner comes from a family of educators, including her mother, Julie; twin sister, Hannah; and an aunt he graduated from James Madison University in Virginia and began teaching during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2020, her father, John, a veteran Newport News firefighter and paramedic, died unexpectedly while you are at home.

Through his personal challenges, Zwerner’s passion for teaching grew, a source close to the situation said, and he often worked nights and weekends.

“Her heart is there,” the source said. «These are your children.»

The shooting has raised questions among school parents, staff and union leaders about the need for increased security and whether there were any previous issues or warnings Zwerner had pointed out about the student.

If there were, «that’s something we’re hoping to find out,» said James Graves, president of the Newport News Education Association, the teachers’ union.

He added that metal detectors won’t solve the problem of school shootings on their own: “We also have to deal with behavior. Then we wouldn’t need metal detectors.»

Taunya Pace, a cafeteria monitor at Richneck for two years, said she never imagined the school would need metal detectors or extra security.

“I come from Texas, where a lot of schools have metal detectors,” Pace said. «Maybe in high school, you might think this could happen, but not here.»

She believes student counseling is a useful tool to better understand «what’s on their heads and their hearts.»

Will the student or parents be charged?

Experts say the boy is unlikely to be charged, but his parents could be criminally guilty depending on whether they properly secured the gun.

The student’s mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, according to Newport News police, but authorities have not specified how the boy got it.

Virginia, unlike Massachusetts and Oregon, does not have a law specifying how to secure guns in a home, said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Virginia law says that “you may not leave a loaded firearm unsecured in a matter that would endanger the life or limb of a child under 14 years of age. And her behavior cannot be reckless,” Anderman said. “If he was reasonable in how he stored his firearm, even if it was obtained by a minor under 14, he may not be liable.”