tampabay.com

Teacher shaken by poisoning attempt

Two students are accused of putting a fabric deodorizer in the teacher's soda during class.

By LETITIA STEIN AND ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published April 3, 2007


TAMPA - Jacqueline Hutchins can't sleep. She isn't ready to face questions from her students at Giunta Middle School.

She still can taste the Febreze that two eighth-graders put in her Pepsi during a science class on Friday.

The students, whom the Times is not naming because of their age, were arrested on felony charges of poisoning. They also could face 10-day suspensions and a change of school.

Hutchins, 51, didn't swallow much. Physically, she says she's fine. It wasn't until the next day that what had happened began to sink in.

"I can't get the taste out of my mouth," said Hutchins, who is taking personal leave this week to deal with the trauma. "I don't think it's ever going to go away."

She believes one student got caught up in a prank, and the other was out to make her life miserable. Both, she said, were special education students.

When she wasn't looking, the 15-year-olds seized the Febreze that she had purchased for her classroom. Other students were watching, according to Debbie Carter, a Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman.

Teacher poisonings have happened before in Hillsborough schools. At Sickles High School, a 16-year-old special education student poured cleaning solution into a teacher's water bottle in 2005.

Not long before, a Franklin Middle School student was arrested for putting Sanford Board Cleaner in an instructor's lemonade. Window cleaner was used by a Jennings Middle student who tampered with a math teacher's soda in 2004.

"I never dreamed this would happen to me," said Hutchins, who has been teaching in Hillsborough since 1990.

She doesn't know what to do to feel right and return to the classroom. She wonders why school officials didn't call to check on her this weekend. She wonders about her legal rights. She says she wants to be able to do her job.

"This is my career," she said, "and I really love what I do."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813-226-3400.