BROOKSVILLE — Sandra Hadsock clenched her teeth, balled up her right fist and closed her eyes. The 5-foot-5 art teacher's first punch was a wild haymaker, just glancing the towering student's right cheek.
Then, as she drew her arm back again, Hadsock gripped the boy's jacket collar and leveled a right cross, catching him square on the jaw. His head snapped to the side and his mess of orange hair blew back.
Now, three weeks after the incident was caught on a student's cell phone videocamera, the State Attorney's Office has decided not to file criminal charges against Hadsock, who had been arrested on a single count of child abuse.
Hadsock landed at least one punch on the student's face, causing a minor cut on his lip, authorities said. But the video doesn't provide conclusive evidence that the 64-year-old veteran teacher wasn't acting in self-defense when she swung at the student who called her vulgar names, prosecutor Brian Trehy said.
Students who witnessed the incident said the teen made contact first and the teacher was responding to that, Trehy said.
"You couldn't put a piece of paper between them," Trehy said. "You can't tell if he actually made contact, but it's certainly reasonable to believe that it could have happened."
In a phone interview Thursday afternoon with Hadsock and her attorney, Ty Tison, she expressed relief that the criminal chapter is over.
"It was the right thing to do," Hadsock said of Trehy's call. "I was defending myself, and he made the right decision."
Hadsock and Tison offered previously unreleased details that led up to the incident outside Central High School's classroom D102.
The student licked a classroom window and left saliva, Tison said. Hadsock and another teacher asked the boy to clean the window, and he refused. Hadsock told him to go to the principal's office.
At that, the student launched a verbal assault, calling her a "f---ing c---" as he walked across the room toward her in what Hadsock felt was a menacing manner, Tison said.
The video picks up from there.
"Step back right now!" Hadsock shouts.
But instead of stepping back, the student steps forward. Hadsock punches him twice, and another boy pulls him back.
"Oh my God!" a girl exclaims. "He didn't do anything. You can't punch him in the face."
"He pushed into me," Hadsock, visibly shaken, says.
"I didn't touch her," the student responds. "You guys saw that, right? I didn't touch her."
Tison said the video "speaks for itself."
"If she would have done nothing, you might have been talking about some very severe injuries to a 64-year-old teacher," Tison said. "She wasn't going to wait to find out."
The student was suspended but not arrested.
A married mother of two grown daughters, Hadsock 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 voted by students for the school's Teacher of the Year award last school year.
She said she hopes school officials will consider the facts of her case and her record, and allow her to return to the classroom, but it's still unclear if that will happen.
She was suspended with pay after her arrest and will have a predetermination hearing this summer as the school district conducts its own investigation, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt did not return messages Thursday.
"I've been doing this for 22 years, and it's part of who I am, a teacher who makes a positive influence in kids' lives," Hadsock said. "I'm a very optimistic person so I'm seeing a near future where I'm back making lesson plans and getting my room in order for next year and doing the job that I do so well."
In the meantime, she is not allowed to have student contact, which means she won't be able to attend Central's graduation ceremony tonight.
Hadsock's story touched a nerve with readers. Many who posted comments on tampabay.com cheered her for sticking up for herself. She said she has received correspondence from strangers throughout the country offering words of support.
The writers agreed that bad student behavior is an epidemic, she said, and it's causing good teachers to leave the profession.
"For a solution, I think you need well-trained teachers, but you also need good parenting and students who want to learn and who understand the need for, and are grateful for, a good education," she said. "Our values have gotten backward somewhere, and we need to reassess as a nation what's important."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or email@example.com.