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Pasco teacher on leave after second breakdown at school

WESLEY CHAPEL — Patti Withers, the teacher who became the subject of intense debate after attempting to kill herself at a school in 2006, was taken into protective custody last week after attempting to hurt herself again, authorities said.

The latest incident also happened at a school.

Withers, 53, punched herself, threw herself to the ground and banged her head on the concrete block wall last Wednesday at Wiregrass Ranch High School, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report. She also put both of her hands around her neck attempting to choke herself, the report said. Withers had taken pills but wouldn't say how many, and she told an administrator she had "nothing to live for" and she had "ruined" her life, authorities said.

She was taken to Florida Hospital in Zephyrhills under the state's Baker Act and was given a mental health evaluation and treatment, the sheriff's report said.

Since then, she has been on paid personal leave, according to Summer Romagnoli, the Pasco school district spokeswoman.

"Our primary concern is the safety of our employees and students," Romagnoli said. "We will re-evaluate her employment status when she contacts us."

Pasco Schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino wanted to fire Withers five years ago after a similar incident at Pasco High School. Battling depression and upset over failing a Spanish certification exam, Withers wrote a suicide note in May 2006 and attempted to overdose on pills in her classroom. Other teachers saw her when she came out for water and called 911.

Fiorentino argued then that Withers should be fired for committing an "immoral act" on school grounds.

But on a 4-1 vote, School Board members overruled Fiorentino in November 2006, and decided to keep Withers on the district's employee roster indefinitely on the condition that she underwent counseling. She eventually returned as a teacher at Wiregrass Ranch.

Withers kept her teaching license, although the Florida Education Practices Commission said in 2009 she should be placed on two years of probation and have a letter placed in her file.

Those records indicate that Withers has battled a range of health issues including depression, high blood pressure and the onset of Parkinson's disease.

Withers did not return a call Tuesday for comment.

Pasco teacher on leave after second breakdown at school 11/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 8:59pm]
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