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Teacher sues over student's drawing

Nikki Limberis, the subject of drawing depicting a student stabbing her, says the School Board owes her back pay and benefits.

By ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


Nikki Limberis, the subject of drawing depicting a student stabbing her, says the School Board owes her back pay and benefits.

PALM HARBOR -- It was during a morning two-dimensional design class in February 2000 that the 16-year-old student approached his art teacher, Nikki Limberis, and handed her an extra-credit drawing titled: Living in Darkness.

She recalled Tuesday that the student told her, "Here's my extra credit," and stared at her menacingly.

Mrs. Limberis said she looked down and saw a drawing of the student driving a butcher knife into her skull and blood gushing out. Near her midsection was an incision, showing her being disemboweled and bleeding.

"I gonna stab you," read the drawing's caption.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Limberis sued the Pinellas County School Board as a result of the incident. In her suit, she contends that she has been unable to return to teaching because of the student's action, and that the school district is contractually obligated to continue to pay her salary and benefits until she is able to return to the classroom.

In an interview Tuesday, Mrs. Limberis said seeing the drawing left her shocked and unable to respond, so she put the drawing down.

"When I saw the drawing, I felt the blood draining from my body," Mrs. Limberis recalled.

Mrs. Limberis said that after she reported the incident, the student, who was not identified in the lawsuit and was not named as a defendant, was suspended for 10 days and reassigned to an alternative school for the remainder of the year.

Mrs. Limberis, 50, said she returned to class that day, and for the next several days as well. But on the 10th day of the student's suspension, fearing that the student might return to school, Mrs. Limberis said she started to feel chest pains, as if she was having a heart attack. She said she went to her doctor, who told her it was not a heart attack, but stress.

Since then, Limberis has been under medical care for emotional problems caused by the incident. The psychological trauma is so severe, she said, she cannot return to the classroom, even now, more than a year later.

After her sick days ran out in May, the school district stopped paying her and cut off her benefits, including her medical benefits, she said.

School district officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Mrs. Limberis' attorney, Tom Roebig of Palm Harbor, points to a "teacher assault protection" provision in the teachers' contract with the school district. That provision stipulates that if a student is found guilty of assaulting a teacher, "any damages, injuries or material loss suffered by the teacher shall be fairly compensated by the board." Roebig argues the student's drawing amounts to an assault.

"Until she can return to the classroom, she's entitled to her benefits, period," Roebig said.

The lawsuit seeks to have Mrs. Limberis' salary and benefits reinstated but does not seek further damages.

Mrs. Limberis, a 25-year educator, taught at Palm Harbor University High School for two years before the incident. She is four years away from being eligible for full retirement, Roebig said.

- Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

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