Virginia school announces new safety protocols as students return to class nearly a month after a 6-year-old allegedly shot a teacher

Students at Richneck Elementary School navigated new safety protocols as they returned to classes Monday for the first time since a 6-year-old student allegedly shot his teacher inside a classroom nearly a month ago.

Police were on campus as anxious parents dropped their children off at the Newport News, Virginia, campus, CNN’s Brian Todd reported. Newly-appointed school administrator Karen Lynch said in an email to families that the officers would be there to “assist with the transition.”

“There was a lot of smiles, a lot of high-fives, some fist bumps going on,” Newport News Police Chief Steve R. Drew told CNN, adding his goal was to restore normalcy. “We had a lot of officers here. I didn’t want it to be overwhelming, but I wanted those kids to know we support them, as well as the faculty and staff.”

Children were told to arrive without a backpack because the school plans to provide them with clear ones on Monday, Lynch said. If students bring lunch items to school, they will be run through a metal detector and are subject to search, the email says.

The school district told CNN it has installed two metal detectors on campus.

The school will be limiting visitors during this first week of instruction to allow staff “the opportunity to establish routines and procedures with students,” the email states. Parents will not be allowed to enter classrooms and those who choose to walk their children to class must show identification and are also subject to search, it said.

The school closed after first grade teacher Abby Zwerner was critically injured on January 6 when a bullet was shot through her hand and into her chest, according to police. The 25-year-old was later stabilized and released from the hospital.

The incident has resulted in the ousting of the Newport News Public Schools superintendent and the reassignment of the school’s principal to another school. Since the shooting, the school board has held several meetings as it grapples with how to handle the incident amidst backlash from frustrated parents.

The father of a student who was in the same class as the 6-year-old said Monday he has “no misgivings” about sending his son back to school.

“I think with new administration, this administration that listens to teachers, listens to concerns and acts on those concerns … this is probably going to be the safest school in the area for a good long while,” Thomas Britton told CNN.

Last week, a lawyer representing the injured teacher alleged that school administrators were warned multiple times by staff who expressed concerns that the student had a gun and was making threats to people the day of the shooting. The lawyer, Diane Toscano, alleged Zwerner was shot about an hour after an employee was denied permission to search the student.

CNN has reached out to the school district for comment on Toscano’s claims.

While police have not publicly identified the student, his family has released statements saying the boy suffers from “an acute disability.”

The family has said the gun the child allegedly brought to school in his backpack — one police said was legally purchased by his mother — was secured by a trigger lock and kept on the top shelf of a closet. As part of his disability care plan, a family member usually went to class with him, but he was not accompanied the day of the incident, they said.

“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family statement said.

As students return to school, the district says support services made available to them since the incident will continue on site.

Asked Monday whether school administrators or staff could face charges in connection to the incident, Drew would not comment. As for whether the mother could face charges, Drew said that decision will be made by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

“Today, for me and this department and I would even say for our city, was about kids getting back to school,” the police chief said, “making sure that they’re safe.”

The school has compiled an Amazon wish list of items teachers have requested “to support students’ social-emotional needs post-tragedy,” a post on the school’s Facebook account said.

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