SPRING HILL — A classroom argument escalated quickly at Explorer K-8 School, with a substitute teacher yelling and a 12-year-old boy screaming. Each got into the other's face, and neither was willing to capitulate, authorities said.
But there's little dispute that it became physical. Chandra Bennington smacked the boy across the face, according to a report from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
Bennington, 34, of Spring Hill, was served with a misdemeanor citation Thursday. She has a court date April 15.
Bennington and the student got into an argument during class at Explorer K-8 School on March 13, according to the incident report. The student, who isn't being named because he is a juvenile, allegedly asked Bennington if he could be excused from class to speak with a friend on another floor of the school.
When Bennington refused, the boy loudly protested, according to the report. Five student witnesses said Bennington then approached the student at his desk, screamed at him and slapped him hard enough that "a smacking sound" was heard.
Bennington later disputed that version of events:
She said things began to fall apart after she assigned her fifth-period class to "compare and contrast two women from history, after reading two stories that were both two pages long."
"(The 12-year-old boy) didn't start on his work until halfway through class, since he was constantly talking," she said. "I made it a point to tell him that he needed to get his work done."
With about 15 minutes left in class, Bennington said, the youth demanded a hall pass to go speak with a friend. When she denied the request and offered to call the friend herself, Bennington said, the boy began "yelling and pushing the issue."
As she attempted to call a student resource officer for help, Bennington said, the student moved closer and got into her face.
The boy demanded to know whom she was calling and kept approaching her, the teacher said. That's when she brought her hand up to push him away and "tapped his cheek," Bennington told deputies.
Bennington said the boy pushed her with his body, and told her he "did this because he hates me." She also told deputies, that the boy told her that "I was anorexic and he could snap me in half like a twig." Bennington is listed as 5-foot-4 and 98 pounds.
Authorities declined to press assault and battery charges against the student because the allegation didn't rise to the level of battery and five witnesses corroborated his claim that he bumped Bennington to get away from her, said sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Donna Black.
One witness took a picture on a cell phone of the student's face that showed some redness, according to the report.
School officials say Bennington, who started working in Hernando in July, is no longer eligible to work in the county as a substitute teacher. She has been suspended from working in Pasco until the case has been resolved.
Bennington has no prior criminal history.
Staff writer Tom Marshall contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.