The Newport News School Board voted Wednesday to replace its embattled superintendent amid the ongoing fallout from a 6-year-old boy who shot his first-grade teacher earlier this month.
The board voted 5-1 to remove George Parker III as head of the district of some 26,500 students.
Michele Mitchell was named interim superintendent.
Parker declined to comment through a district spokesperson on Wednesday.
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Mark Anthony Garcia Sr., the father of a second-grader at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, where the boy shot his teacher on Jan. 6, told the school board meeting Wednesday that it was time for Parker stepped aside.
«It’s time someone else took his place,» he said, citing security lapses in Richneck that occurred before the shooting. He added that Parker is «part of the problem.»
School ‘failed to act’ after warnings, lawyer says
Abigail Zwerner, 25, was seriously wounded in the hand and chest when she was shot intentionally, Newport News police said. But she still managed to safely escort about 20 students out of a classroom at the elementary school, authorities said.
“I think she saved lives, because I don’t know what else could have happened if those kids had stayed in that room,” Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said during a news conference.
Zwerner texted a loved one before she was shot saying the boy was armed and school officials weren’t acting, according to a source close to the situation. The source said Tuesday that Zwerner sent the text about an hour before he was shot, writing that the student said he had a gun in his backpack and that Richneck administrators were not helping.
On Wednesday morning, Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, held a news conference and said three teachers spoke with school administration about the boy’s behavior on the day of the shooting. Teachers reported that the student was believed to have a weapon on campus, she said.
Zwerner first went to a school administrator between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and said the student threatened to hit a classmate, Toscano said. A second teacher went to a school administrator at 12:30 pm and told the administrator that the teacher took it upon herself to search the 6-year-old’s backpack.
«The administrator downplayed the teacher’s report and the possibility of a weapon,» Toscano said.
A third teacher told an administrator shortly before 1 p.m. that the boy showed the gun to a student at recess and «threatened to shoot him if he told anyone,» Toscano said.
A fourth employee asked an administrator for permission to search the boy and was denied, he said.
The administrator told the clerk to «wait because the school day was almost over,» Toscano said.
She said «the administration couldn’t be bothered» and that the tragedy was «entirely preventable» if they «had taken action when they were aware of the imminent danger. But instead, they failed to act and Abby was shot.»
Toscano said he plans to file a lawsuit on Zwerner’s behalf.
The news of Zwerner’s direct warning comes after Parker told a virtual town hall this month that the boy had been late for school and had his backpack inspected upon arrival at the office to sign in, according to parents who viewed the meeting.
«At least one administrator was notified of a possible weapon,» Parker said in video reviewed by NBC News.
A district spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment on Toscano’s allegations.
Students ready to return to school on Monday
Drew has said that the boy’s mother legally purchased the 9mm Taurus firearm used in the shooting and that the boy took the gun from his home. Whether he was properly insured is a key element in the investigation, he said.
Drew told NBC News that the investigation involves looking into the boy and his parents’ history. He also said that student witnesses will be interviewed.
“If there are child protective service records, we want to see them. If there are any school records related to behavior problems or anything, related to violence, threats,” those reports will also be investigated, she said.
The boy’s family released a statement last week from his attorney, James Ellenson. The family said the gun was secured when the boy took it from the home.
“Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children. The firearm our son accessed was seized,» the statement said.
He also said that the boy is disabled.
“Our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at school that included his mom or dad attending school with him and walking him to class every day. In addition, our son has benefited from an extensive community of care that also includes his grandparents who work alongside us and other caregivers to ensure his needs and accommodations are met. The week of the shoot was the first week we weren’t in class with him. We will mourn our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.»
The statement added that after the shooting, the boy has been in a hospital receiving the «treatment he needs.»
Richneck has been closed since the shooting. The students are scheduled to return on Monday. When it reopens, the elementary school will be equipped with a metal detector.
Newport News Public Schools, which has had three cases of gun violence on district property in 17 months, has secured funding for 90 state-of-the-art metal detectors to be placed in all schools.