POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida substitute teacher was charged with battery after attacking one student and assaulting another who tried to break up the fight.
The sub, David Sierra, was working at Boone Middle School in Haines City alongside a full-time teacher Wednesday morning. Police said the teacher went outside the classroom to make copies while Sierra stayed in the room.
Police said Sierra got into an argument with a student, then got into his face and started belittling him in front of the class.
Upon hearing the commotion, the other teacher ran back into the classroom and tried to de-escalate the situation, but Sierra kept yelling at the student, police said. When the boy got up from his desk Sierra allegedly forced him against the wall. When the boy started yelling, Sierra grabbed his neck and shoulders and kneed him multiple times in the face and chest area using a move known in martial arts as a knee strike, which can result in serious injuries, police said. The extent of the boy’s injuries was not disclosed.
“Mr. Sierra was within an inch, maybe two of the student’s face, to the point where the student could actually smell or feel Mr. Sierra’s breath,” said Mike Ferguson with the Haines City Police Department.
Police said Sierra is about 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 260 pounds. The other teacher, who weighs about 100 pounds, tried to intervene, but was knocked to the ground with the student.
“Throughout this commotion, vulgarities are flying. The teacher walks in and in an effort to try and protect the student tries to pull the student away from Mr. Sierra, both the teacher and the student at that point fall to the ground,” Ferguson adding. “She’s trying to take on a man more than two times her size and when our detectives interviewed her, her priority the entire time was just protecting the students and the teacher really is kind of the hero.”
Police said Sierra continued yelling at the boy while he was on the ground.
A second student tried to intervene and was grabbed by Sierra. Police said that student tried to defend himself by punching Sierra, then Sierra started attacking him.
“At which point the second student, the intervening student is grabbed by the shirt and kind of swung back and forth,” Ferguson said.
Surveillance video shows Sierra chasing the second student out of the classroom. Police said the teacher helped the boy get back into the classroom and locked Sierra out.
Sierra, 52, was arrested and charged with two counts of battery and one count of disruption of a school function. He has since been fired by Polk County Schools.
“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.”
Police said Sierra had worked as a long-term sub at Boone, and had no prior disciplinary infractions. He was paid an annual salary of $22,785.
“Educators are expected to be de-escalating, 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.”