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    School district sued over needle stabbing

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 28, 2001

    CLEARWATER -- Peggy Patides dropped off her 6-year-old son Nicholas at Bay Point Elementary School in April 2000 and assumed he would safely spend another day in reading circles and play groups.

    But while the boy listened to his teacher read a book that day, a fellow first-grader stabbed him twice with a used hypodermic needle he brought into the classroom. Nicholas, now 8, was tested for various diseases, including AIDS and hepatitis, for a year and took medicine to prevent the diseases for a month.

    Now Peggy Patides and her former husband, George, are suing the Pinellas County School District for allowing Nicholas' classmate to bring the needle into class, failing to prevent the stabbing and not responding to the boy's screams.

    "He's still fearful," Mrs. Patides said. "He still brings it up. He didn't want to go to any school. . . . I just hope this is going to bring about a change."

    District lawyer Jackie Spoto said the campus police were called to the St. Petersburg school, and teachers and students' parents were notified about the incident. School officials conducted an investigation, but no employee was disciplined.

    "No one did anything wrong," Spoto said.

    The lawsuit, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court this month, also named the teacher, Catherine Wall, and the principal, Gaye B. Lively, who both still work at the school. Wendolyn Busch, an attorney for the Patideses, said the school and its employees have a duty to protect their students.

    But district attorneys say they will ask for the case against the employees to be dismissed because they are protected from being sued under the law.

    Mrs. Patides said the needle was found at a school bus stop. But Erin Shimer, an attorney hired by the school district, said the boy who had the needle picked it up at a public bus stop.

    "We can't frisk the kids as they come into school," Shimer said.

    The stabbing occurred after Wall disciplined the 9-year-old and moved him to a table near Nicholas, according to the lawsuit.

    The boy stabbed Nicholas in the buttocks and he screamed, but Wall did not respond, the suit says. After the boy stabbed Nicholas a second time, Wall reacted.

    "My child was stabbed one time, and the teacher didn't do anything about it," Mrs. Patides said. "If a kid is screaming, you have the responsibility to find out why."

    Neither student attends the school now, Spoto said. The Patides took Nicholas out of the school after the incident and enrolled him in another school.

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