Virginia 1st-grade teacher who was shot by student was fired, attorney says

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — First-grade teacher Abby Zwerner who was shot by her 6-year-old student in January no longer works for Newport News Public Schools.

WAVY obtained a copy of an email sent to Zwerner on May 22 that states, “NNPS has processed a separation of employment for you effective the close of business 06/12/2023.”

The one-page email from the Human Resources Department explains exiting information, per standard NNPS policy.

Zwerner’s attorney Jeffrey Breit on Tuesday called this a firing.

“I don’t think you can read this any other way than you’ve been fired. And that’s what she thinks. She doesn’t understand it; there’s no other communication,” Breit said told WAVY.

According to NNPS spokesperson Michelle Price, Zwerner notified the school system in March that she would not be returning. Price provided this statement to WAVY:

The email that Ms. Zwerner received from the Human Resources Department is a confirmation of her separation of service from Newport News Public Schools. Every employee who is separating from the school division receives a similar communication. Ms. Zwerner notified the Human Resources Department that she was resigning from her position as a teacher for NNPS on March 13, 2023.

Ms. Zwerner was an employee of Newport News Public Schools until June 12, 2023, the last day of her contract.

Newport News Public Schools

But Breit said when the email arrived, Zwerner couldn’t believe it. 

“To say we were shocked is an understatement; we have litigation. They haven’t paid her in a couple of months. They are trying to squeeze her. She has to Aug. 1 to leave or re-sign, (but) they fired her two months early. The only thing I can think, they were trying to put pressure on her because we filed suit,” said Breit. “It’s outrageous, as outrageous as I’ve ever seen.”

According to Breit, Zwerner has not been paid since February. He said they tried to make her take workers’ comp, but when she wouldn’t take it, they just stopped paying her.

Zwerner, 25 at the time of the shooting, was in her classroom at Richneck Elementary School the afternoon of Jan. 6 when her student shot her. She was seriously injured.

Police confirmed the gun used by the 6-year-old belonged to his mother, Deja Taylor.

On the same day as Zwerner’s last day of official employment with NNPS, Taylor was in court to face federal charges tied to this case. She pleaded guilty to both charges, unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm and making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm.

Zwerner has filed a $40 million lawsuit against the Newport News School Board, former Superintendent Dr. Gregory Parker, former Richneck Principal Briana Foster-Newton, and former Richneck Assistant Principal Dr. Ebony Parker. Attorneys representing Parker are asking a judge to dismiss the suit. Their argument is that Zwerner was shot while doing her job, so her injuries are covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Several Richneck employees have resigned from NNPS since the shooting, including Parker.

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