The Virginia school district, where a 6-year-old boy shot a teacher earlier this year, argues she should receive workers’ compensation for her injuries instead of the $40 million she is seeking as part of a trial.
Abigail Zwerner, 25, was reading to her first-grade class at Richneck Elementary on January 6 when one of her students with a history of behavioral problems and violence pulled out a gun and shot her in the hand and chest with a single bullet.
His lawsuit accuses the school district of gross negligence, according to court documents.
She was hospitalized for nearly two weeks and told NBC News last month that she was still in shock and still had nightmares about the shooting. The case shook the military shipbuilding community on the Virginia coast and sparked a national debate about gun and school violence.
Zwerner sued the Newport News School District in April, claiming administrators acted negligently when they ignored warnings that the boy was dangerous and ignored reports on the day of the shooting that he had a gun.
The Newport News School Board said in its filing Wednesday that Zwerner’s injury fell under Virginia workers’ compensation, which it says covers assaults on employees.
“The plaintiff was clearly injured on the job, at her workplace, by a student in the classroom where she was teaching, and during the school day,” the school board said.
PURSUING TEACHER SHOT:Virginia teacher sues school district for gross negligence, seeks $40 million
The filing, which was provided to USA TODAY by school district spokeswoman Michelle Price, also runs counter to Zwerner’s claim in her lawsuit that she reasonably expected her to work with elementary-age children who wouldn’t be a danger to her. The district cited instances of violence against teachers by students across the country and in Newport News.
“While in an ideal world young children would pose no danger to others, including their teachers, this is unfortunately not the reality,” the filing states.
“This is exactly why Plaintiff is strategically focused on using a handgun as opposed to another weapon with less perceived notoriety and shock value, even though serious injury can be inflicted with scissors, knives, pencils, stones, chairs and hands.”
The district argued that if the child had stabbed Zwerner in the neck with sharp scissors rather than shooting him with a gun, there would be no doubt the injury would fall under workers’ compensation. Zwerner refused to accept workers’ compensation and filed his lawsuit instead, the school board said.
In a statement provided to USA TODAY on Friday, Zwerner’s legal team said no one would agree that a first-grade teacher should expect that one of the risks of teaching is to get shot by a student.
“The school board’s position is contrary to how every Newport News citizen believes teachers should be treated, and the law does not support the board’s position,” the statement said. “Teachers in the district will be alarmed to learn that their employer considers this part of the job description.”
The boy used his mother’s gun, investigators found. While prosecutors have said the child will not face any charges, his mother was arrested earlier this month and charged with criminal neglect of a child and recklessly leaving a loaded firearm in order to set a child in danger. USA TODAY is not naming the woman in this story to protect the identity of the child. The boy has been receiving mental health treatment at a hospital since the shooting, his family’s attorney previously said.
Zwerner claimed in his lawsuit that school administrators received multiple warnings on the day of the shooting that the boy might have a gun and pose a danger. The lawsuit also said Zwerner would regularly raise concerns about the child’s behavior and had a well-documented history of abuse, including a previous incident when he “choked” a kindergarten teacher.
The boy’s backpack was searched before the shooting, but Zwerner’s trial said she saw him take something out of his backpack and put it in his pocket, but an assistant manager said that ” the boy’s pockets were too small to hold a handgun and did nothing. “
Diane Toscano, one of Zwerner’s lawyers, said the school administration “was paralyzed by apathy” and took no action, including calling the police, removing the boy from class or closing it. school.
LEARN MORE:Virginia, 6, who shot her teacher, reveals flaws in how schools treat students with disabilities
The district also pushed back against Zwerner’s argument that the child should have been removed from her class because of her behavior. The district said he was being evaluated and treated for possible ADHD, but evaluations had not yet been completed. The district said Zwerner agreed with the plan at the time, which included removing previous measures put in place, such as a parent accompanying him to class because his behavior had improved.
Educating the boy “through his behavioral assessment and educational journey” was part of his job description, the district claimed.
Zwerner’s lawsuit names the Newport News School Board and several school district officials, including former superintendent George Parker III, as defendants. The lawsuit says Zwerner suffered bodily injury, physical pain, mental anguish, loss of income and other damages.
Contributor: The Associated Press