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Virginia School District: Teacher Shot By Student Should File for Workers’ Comp, Not Sue

— April 27, 2023

Attorneys for the Newport News School District said that the injured teacher should file a workers’ compensation claim–not a lawsuit alleging negligence.

A Virginia school district has asked a circuit court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Abigail Zwerner, a Newport teacher who was shot and injured by a 6-year-old student.

According to NBC News, the Newport News School Board said that Zwerner was “clearly injured while at work, at her place of employment, by a student in the classroom.”

The school board also contested the teacher’s claim that she, as a teacher, should be able to expect that her young students would pose no physical danger.

Somewhat interesting, the Newport News School Board attempted to rebuff Zwerner’s argument by citing statistics evidencing violence against teachers across the United States.

“While in an ideal world, young children would not pose any danger to others, including their teachers, this is sadly not a reality,” the district said in its petition to dismiss.

As has reported before, Zwerner was shot in the hand and in the chest while sitting at a reading table in a first-grade classroom at Richneck Elementary school. The 25-year-old teacher spent nearly two weeks in the hospitals and required at least four surgeries.

Since the shooting, Zwerner has said that she sometimes “can’t get up out of bed.”

The 6-year-old responsible for the shooting “had a history of random violence.”

Image of a Handgun
Handgun; image courtesy of
stevepb via Pixabay,

School officials had previously sent the boy to another school after he continued acting out against his classmates, but allowed him to return for first grade in 2022.

The student was placed on a modified schedule “because he was chasing students around the playground with a belt in an effort to whip them.”

“Teachers’ concerns with John Doe’s behavior [were] regularly brought to the attention of Richneck Elementary School administration, and the concerns were always dismissed,” Zwerner’s lawsuit alleges.

On the day of the attack, other students had—in fact—complained to educators and administrative personnel that the boy appeared to have a firearm in his backpack.

However, the students’ concerns were dismissed, and nobody ordered a search of the child’s backpack or other belongings.

While the child was not charged with any crime, his mother has been indicted on felony counts of neglect and reckless storage of a firearm.

The Newport News School District notes that, while Zwerner was approved for workers’ compensation, she has refused to accept the school’s offer.

Attorneys for the board argue that Zwerner’s lawsuit “strategically focuses on the use of a handgun as opposed to some other weapon with less perceived notoriety and shock value.”

“if the allegations in the complaint substituted ‘sharp scissors’ for ‘gun’ and John Doe stabbed [Zwerner] in the neck in the classroom, there would be no doubt that the injury would fall under workers’ compensation,” the district wrote.


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