David Sierra, a substitute teacher, was arrested on Wednesday after the incident at Boone Middle School in Haines City, local news outlets report.
The school located halfway between Orlando and Tampa teaches grades 6-8, in which students are generally aged between 11 and 14.
Police said the altercation began after the 52-year-old became engaged in an argument with a student, prompting the class’ main teacher, who had briefly left the room, to return.
Sierra continued shouting at the student, according to police, and when the male pupil stood up he was allegedly forced against the wall, grabbed by his neck and shoulders, and kneed several times in the face and chest.
The police statement, quoted by multiple news outlets, said Sierra had used a martial arts technique known as a knee strike. Details of the boy’s injuries were not released.
Mike Ferguson, of the Haines City Police Department, said: “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,” in comments first reported by WFLA..
“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.
“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.”
A second student was allegedly grabbed by Sierra after he tried to intervene. Police said the boy punched Sierra in self-defense before Sierra started attacking him.
Officers said the female teacher helped the boy before locking Sierra out.
Sierra—reportedly a long-term substitute at the school who had been in the post since January 16—was arrested and charged with two counts of battery and one count of disruption of a school function.
Jacqueline Byrd, superintendent for Polk County Schools, said the substitute teacher would be removed from his teaching role at the school.
“We are shocked and appalled by the incident that has occurred at Boone Middle School,” she said.
“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.”
She added: “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.”
Newsweek contacted the Haines City Police Department for comment.