POLK COUNTY, Fla. — The superintendent for Polk County Schools says she's "shocked and appalled" after a substitute teacher was arrested on Wednesday for hitting two students.
According to Haines City Police, David Sierra, 52, attacked the students just after 9 a.m. at Boone Middle School.
Police say it started when Sierra, a long-term substitute at the school since January 16, and one student got into an argument.
A press release says Sierra was working alongside a full-time teacher who stepped away from her desk to make copies.
Authorities say Sierra stood over the student and yelled obscenities at him while belittling him with demeaning language. A teacher who witnessed the incident described Sierra as being "one inch" away from the student's face, according to police.
The teacher, who was in another room, ran in to protect the student and repeatedly told Sierra to stop and get away from the student. Police say Sierra continued yelling.
The student got out of his seat in an effort to get away from Sierra. As the student tried to back away, police say Sierra moved with him and forced him against a wall. Sierra then grabbed the student and kneed him in the face and chest area multiple times, according to police.
Police say the teacher tried to get pull the student away from Sierra but couldn't. According to police, Sierra is 5 foot 11 and weighs 260 pounds, and the teacher weighs about 100 pounds.
At that point, police say the teacher and student both fell to the ground. Sierra continued to attack the student as he lay on the floor, police say.
Police say a second student ran over and tried to pull Sierra off. According to the release, Sierra grabbed the second student who then punched him out of fear he would become the target of the attack.
Sierra let go of the first student and went after the second, police say. The student ran out of the room and Sierra chased him, which was captured by a surveillance camera.
The student ran back into the room where the teacher let him in and quickly locked Sierra out, police say. Sierra tried to open the door but was unable to.
Sierra was fired by Polk County Schools. He faces two counts of battery and one count of disrupting a school function.
"Educators are expected to be deescalating, stabilizing forces in our schools," Chief Jim Elensky said. "In this case, we had one who lived up to those standards and one who was instead, the antagonist. I commend the teacher for having the courage to step in to protect a student from someone nearly three times her size. I am once again appreciative of Polk County Schools for their cooperation and commitment to promote a safe and positive learning environment."
"We are shocked and appalled by the incident that has occurred at Boone Middle School," said Jacqueline Byrd, superintendent for Polk County Schools. "As educators, we are held to a higher standard. We must treat every child entrusted to our care with the utmost compassion and respect. We must represent our profession with dignity and pride. We must set an example for our students, our colleagues and our community at all times. Any failure to do so simply will not be tolerated. Period. My staff will move forward with immediately terminating this employee, and we will report the incident that occurred at Boone to the Office of Professional Practices. To my employees and to my community, be assured that Polk County Public Schools has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior. Employees who engage in anything less than professional behavior will face serious consequences. We thank the Haines City Police Department for their assistance in addressing this situation."