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Virginia elementary school without doors or walls could get $1.5M for improvements after teacher was shot

Richneck Elementary School
Richneck
Richneck Elementary
Posted at 7:24 PM, Feb 10, 2023

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Richneck Elementary School in Newport News could receive $1.5 million for renovations that would go to improve the layout of some classrooms.

Currently, some classrooms in the school are only divided by a partition and do not have any permanent doors or walls, and lawmakers said that could be a security issue.

The push for an improved layout comes more than a month after police said a 6-year-old student shot first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner inside a Richneck classroom.

"Schools have partitions that you can close up and then open up to have larger lessons, collaborative learning and interaction among just more than one classroom," State Senator Monty Mason (D) said.

Some lawmakers identify the layout as a security risk for students and teachers. Mason says he wants to ensure that all rooms have a secure point of entry.

According to a spokesperson for the Newport News School District, only four second-grade classes at Richneck Elementary have an open format where classrooms do not have doors.

"The classrooms had initially been built for an open and collaborative classroom environment, not where the incident took place but in the second-grade area," Mason said.

The $1.5 million funding will go towards building classrooms in the second-grade wing of the school.

"After that, they wanted the ability to close it off to individual classrooms and that’s the amount of money it will take for them to do so," Mason said.

Vonda Pendleton, a Richneck grandparent, said she likes the idea of money going toward renovations.

"It would be nice to have doors on every classroom," Pendleton said.

Pendleton’s grandson is in kindergarten at Richneck. She said the last month has been tough for her and others in the Richneck community after the school shooting.

"I’m just keeping prayed up and praying over my grandson. Because that’s all I can do. I can’t rely on anybody else but God," Pendleton said.

The state Senate included a $50 million grant program to support similar security renovations in schools across the state.

Dutrow Elementary School is the only other Newport News Public School with a similar open concept for classes without doors or walls to divide classes.

"This is one thing we can do right now directly to say to the people of Newport News, ‘We see you, we hear you, we’re listening and we want the best for you'," Sen. Mason said.

Sen. Mason said the House and Senate will vote on those budget amendments this week.

A new budget will go into effect on July 1.

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