9 Investigates

What Florida teachers told 9 Investigates about violence in the classroom

ORLANDO, Fla. — How safe do Florida teachers feel inside their own classrooms? 9 Investigates is revealing the startling results of its exclusive statewide survey.


Some experts say we uncovered reveals a crisis in education and teachers under attack.

Investigative Reporter Ashlyn Webb spent weeks talking to educators about what they’re up against and what can be done to keep everyone’s learning environment safe.

We warn that the video you’re about to see is violent and may be disturbing to some viewers.

Just last year, this video went viral, showing a special needs student chasing and attacking a Flagler County paraprofessional. It shows Brendan Depa slamming Joan Naydich to the ground, knocking her unconscious!

The attack left her with five broken ribs, a concussion and hearing loss.

“Everything was taken away from me at 10 a.m.,” Joan Naydich said, during a sentencing hearing. “My life will never be what it was before.”

SEE: What teachers told us about violence in the classroom

Stories of educators being attacked are, unfortunately, all too common.

Volusia County paraprofessional Betty Smith took a hit while trying to protect a student who had run into her classroom. He was hiding from another student chasing him. But that other student was determined to fight him.

“To get me out of the way, the boy took his fist and slammed it into my arm,” Smith said.

Brevard County teacher Lara Watkins was attacked by a student after a door grazed his sneakers.

“Because his sneakers were worth more than my whole being,” Watkins said. “He shoved me. I put my hands out in front of me to keep the distance. He kicked my hand, push my hands away from me and grabbed my wrist. Chest bumped me. As he stood step back from me and went to rear back and to punch me.”

Photos: What teachers told us about violence in the classroom

The only thing that saved her from the punch-- a former student who pulled the attacker away.

9 Investigates teamed up with our sister stations across the country to ask teachers about their experiences with student violence-- their opinions about the causes, and possible solutions.

More than 8,000 teachers in 34 states weighed in. Nearly 2,600 teach in Florida.

Of the Florida educators that answered our survey, 65 percent said they’ve been subjected to physical violence at least once. 47 percent said they’ve been subjected to physical violence more than once.

Andrew Spar, president of Florida Education Association, says he’s not shocked.

Read: Sentencing hearing for student accused of beating a local teacher’s aide continues

“What we’ve heard from teachers all over the state that since COVID, they’ve seen an increase in the number of misbehavior by students,” Spar said.

But why are teachers under attack even more now?

84 percent of teachers surveyed say students are less likely to respect teachers’ authority since the pandemic.

“Students just they do what they want. They are backed up by their parents,” Watkins said.

Just in October, Eyewitness News reported on a viral video posted to social media showing two moms in a fist fight on board an Osceola County school bus. An incident report says the fight started over two children arguing on the bus over a toy.

Read: 2 mothers get in fist fight on Osceola elementary school bus, over toy

Two-thirds of the teachers surveyed blame lack of parent involvement or discipline as a key factor in student behavior--far outweighing things like social media, cell phones, or being below grade level.

9 Investigates found violence in schools has consequences on our workforce.

Majority of Florida teachers who responded say they are afraid to go to school. 58 percent said they are considering leaving the profession.

Watkins says, after the attack, she considered it.

“Knowing that it could happen again, I am still on edge,” Watkins said.

Already, Florida has the highest shortage of teachers in the country, with more than 5,000 vacancies, according to the Florida Education Association’s 2023 count of teaching position advertised on district websites.

Spar said that behind low pay student behavior is one of the top reasons teachers are leaving the classroom.

He said that to tackle the violence the state must first address the lack of resources and funding.

“We’ve called on the state of Florida to increase funding to our schools by $2.5 billion a year for the next seven years. They haven’t done that. If they did that, we could hire enough school counselors, enough school social workers, enough school psychologists. We could raise the pay of our teachers and staff in our schools so we can deal with the teacher and staff shortage, and we’ll have resources to put into place to make sure that our students are not misbehaving,” Spar said.

Next week, we will hear from local teachers about what they think needs to happen to keep everyone safer in our classrooms.

Email 9 Investigates’ Ashlyn Webb at ashlyn.webb@wftv.com to share your story.

Click here to download our free news, weather and smart TV apps. And click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.