HAINES CITY, FL – A long-term substitute teacher was arrested on Wednesday after physical confrontations with two students.
David Sierra, 52, was charged with two counts of battery and one count of disrupting a school function for incidents that took place inside the classroom after 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
Sierra was working alongside a full-time teacher at Boone Middle School when she stepped away from her desk to make copies. While away from her desk, a verbal argument ensued between Sierra and a student.
Sierra, who stands about 5-foot-11 and weighs 260 pounds, stood over the student, “one inch” from his face, as described by the teacher who witnessed the initial stages from the other room. Sierra yelled obscenities at him, while belittling him in front of the class using language intended to demean the student.
The teacher heard and saw the onset of the incident from the other room and ran in to protect her student. She immediately attempted to deescalate the situation, repeatedly telling the substitute to stop and come with her away from the target of his anger. The substitute continued to direct his verbal attack on the student. As a reactionary defense mechanism, the student got out of his seat to try and put a little distance between himself and the substitute because he was literally feeling and smelling the substitute’s breath as the substitute continued to berate him.
As the student attempted to back away from the substitute, Sierra moved with the student, forcing him against the wall. With nowhere else to go, the student yelled at the suspect to get away from him. Sierra then grabbed the student in the neck and shoulder area and kneed him multiple times in the face and chest area by pulling the student’s upper body into his rising knee, known in martial arts as a knee strike capable of resulting in serious injury.
In fear for her student, the teacher, who weighs about 100 pounds, tried to pull the student away from Sierra but was unsuccessful. The student and teacher both fell to the ground as she attempted to rescue him and the suspect continued his attack on the student even as the student lay on the floor. Seeing his teacher and the other student in need of help, another student ran over to try and pull the suspect off of the first victim. Sierra grabbed the second student and the second student, fearing he was going to be the focus of the suspect’s fury, punched the suspect. The suspect did let go of the first student at that point to redirect his attack on the second student.
Fearing for his safety, the second student ran out of the classroom. Sierra chased the second student outside, where surveillance video was able to capture the suspect’s attempt to catch the second student. The student was able to elude the suspect and ran back to the classroom where his teacher opened the door and quickly locked it after him. The substitute, still in pursuit, attempted to open the door but was unable thanks to the teacher’s decisive actions.
“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.”
Sierra was immediately terminated by Polk County Schools following Wednesday’s incident after working as a long-term sub at Boone Middle School since Jan. 16. He had no prior disciplinary action and was paid an annual salary of $22,785.
“We are shocked and appalled by the incident that has occurred at Boone Middle School,” said Jacqueline Byrd, superin tendent 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.”