BROOKSVILLE — It was the most frightening moment of Jim Malcolm's career.
Malcolm was teaching high school in Rhode Island in the mid 1980s when an angry, athletically built student came at Malcolm like he was going to hit him.
"I knew at that time he had to swing or strike me first before I could defend myself," recalled Malcolm, 67, a former Hernando County School Board member. "I took my glasses off and I was hoping that if a punch connected I would still be standing."
Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association union, maintains Sandra Hadsock felt a similar fear Wednesday when, authorities say, the 64-year-old veteran art teacher swung two or three times at a male student who called her vulgar names at Central High School.
Hadsock landed at least one punch on the student's face, causing a minor cut on his lip, a Hernando sheriff's report said.
The altercation was caught on a student's cell phone camera and witnesses said Hadsock "attacked" the student. She was arrested on one count of child abuse and released on bond later that day.
"Which headline do you want to read?" Vitalo said. " 'Sixty-four year-old teacher hits a student that was lunging at her,' or do you want to read, 'High school student puts a 64-year-old teacher in the hospital.' "
On paper, Hadsock seems like an unlikely teacher to put a hand on a student.
She started with the district as a substitute teacher in 1985 and became a full-time teacher three years later, a faculty member when Central opened in 1988. She has a clean disciplinary record, and was the school's Teacher of the Year in 2009.
Hadsock would not discuss the specifics of the case Thursday, referring reporters to her attorney, Ty Tison, who did not return a message left at his office. But as she left her Brooksville home Thursday morning, Hadsock told Bay News 9 she wants to return to the classroom.
"I think this will come out good," she said. "I love art and I love my students, and I think there is a huge percentage that would say they love me in return."
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt says he empathizes with Hadsock — to a point. He declined to comment on the specifics of her case but said hitting a student is typically grounds for losing your job regardless of the provocation.
"Kids do lots of things that will tick you off. That will happen," Blavatt said. "But you're the adult. You're in control. You don't allow it to get to that. There are ways to de-escalate the situation."
The video of the incident had not been released to the media by Thursday evening. Blavatt has seen the footage, though.
"It's pretty easy to see what happened," he said. "I can tell you this: Neither party is without responsibility."
The student has been suspended and more disciplinary action may be taken, he said.
Hadsock has been suspended with pay pending a district investigation. Her first court appearance is slated for June 7, and a conviction of child abuse would likely mean the loss of her teaching certificate and termination, Vitalo said.
Though Blavatt says it's not acceptable to hit a student, plenty of people feel the corporal punishment of yore is just what today's unruly kids need. The dozens of online reader comments posted below Hadsock's story on tampabay.com cheered her for standing up for herself.
"Some people believe since we did away with corporal punishment, the kids are getting away with murder," Malcolm said.
As for that threatening high school student Malcolm faced so long ago, he said, "I screamed at him and he backed down."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed. Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.