Six-year-old student shoots teacher, raises concerns about increasing school violence

This photo shows different factors that can involve school violence. (photo courtesy of Columbia University)

photo courtesy of Columbia University

This photo shows different factors that can involve school violence. (photo courtesy of Columbia University)

On January 6th, first grade teacher Abby Zwerner was interrupted mid lesson after being shot by one of her students in Newport News, Virginia. Though this situation is rare, school violence continues to hit new highs despite school administration’s efforts to minimize, and ultimately, prevent it. Despite the many new initiatives being introduced, such as the “see something, say something” movement across schools following the horrors that happened at Sandy Hook, bullying, verbal and physical violence, as well as cyberbullying are continuing to persist, affecting the student body, teachers, and school administration.

Abby Zwerner, first grade teacher that was shot by her student (Photo courtesy NBC News of Abby Zwerner)

According to the school administration, the child’s backpack was searched after there was a tip regarding a possible gun being carried by a student, yet somehow, the gun was missed during inspection, resulting in a critically wounded teacher and a community of traumatized students, teachers, and staff, and yet another case of school violence that could have ended fatally. 

This incident has raised many questions from school administration. 

“How is a student that young able to have access to a weapon? How is the student able to conceal it, bring it to school,” Ramon Moss, Carnegie Vanguard High School’s principal asks. 

As a principal and former teacher, Moss makes sure to take preventative measures to minimize and effectively combat these incidents as much as possible, to make sure they don’t continue to progress or worsen.

In order to possibly effectively deal with situations like this, communication is key, and making sure that all employees, all students, and especially parents at home know the different implications and that everyone is trained to notice signs when a student may be under duress or distress and actually need some assistance in dealing with certain issues.

— Mr. Moss

Moss also thinks that teachers should feel completely comfortable regarding administrative responses to eradicate possible threats as soon as possible.

“As a teacher then I would certainly approach the administration with the backpack and probably also with the students, maybe separately in order to ensure that I felt comfortable that an adequate search was made. I know that not all elementary schools have law enforcement or police officers at least on the campus all the time, so I would want to ensure that I was comfortable with the outcome. And especially I would ask if I could be present during the search and especially if someone else is doing the searching,” Moss said.

After Richneck Elementary School’s administration failed to address concerns about the possible gun inside the students backpack, acting with urgency amongst school administration continues to be a vital factor.

Moss emphasizes timeliness as a preventative measure when dealing with altercations amongst teachers and students in schools. 

“Having a visible presence among administration and our campus officer and not just the visible presence, but attempting to establish positive rapport with different students, and efficiently and effectively dealing with incidents, as soon as they happen. I think it kind of sets the tone for students knowing certain parameters of what they shouldn’t do,” says Moss.

 By addressing incidents in a timely manner, the chance of escalation of conflict and further progression of it could decrease.

Though Carnegie has a fairly low school violence incident rate, other schools don’t. Students anticipate school fights every week, as well as some form of verbal or physical altercations. 

“I would say at least once a week is how often (fights) occurred. Sometimes there were two, maybe three times a week, it was crazy,” says Zack Ellis, a former Carnegie student, when referring to another HISD school.

The admin responded immediately, but not effectively to each of these frequent occurring attacks.

When these fights were seen by the school administration, students participating would be punished with detentions and suspensions, but this would rarely stop the violence.

I feel like if they kept speaking out against this violence, at conferences, kids would not do it so often.

— Zack Ellis

Threats were also common. Despite many of the threats being empty, the amount of them made diminishes the importance of responding to them as soon as possible.

Student-teacher violence, which is what was recently observed in Richneck Elementary, has also occurred in other HISD schools.

“One incident that happened was one of the students had accused one of the teachers of being racist and the teacher just punched them straight in the face,” shared Ellis. 

See Something, Say Something, anonymous reporting system implementing by schools to minimize school violence

These instances of violence impact the student body, emotionally. Seeing so much violence takes a mental toll on these students. Similar to how these HISD students are impacted, the first graders at Richneck Elementary were emotionally scarred after seeing their teacher get shot by one of their own classmates.

Though violence in schools is constantly rising, with the right actions, school administration, parents, and students could potentially decrease it, yielding a safer environment for students and the teachers, staff, and community members in schools tasked with educating them.