Exclusive: Teacher Cites Frustration, Poor Training in Attack

Sherri Davis cites school disciplinary system, alleged victim's home life.

May 13, 2010, 8:19 AM

May 19, 2010 — -- The cell phone video of a Texas teacher beating a 13-year-old student shocked the nation, but the teacher involved said in an exclusive interview that while nothing excuses her actions, there's far more to the story.

"I don't want anybody to think that I am actually here to excuse myself concerning that video," teacher Sherri Davis told "Good Morning America" today. "But there is so much more to what is going on concerning the kids, concerning the teachers and the day-to-day activities there [in the school]."

Davis, formerly a teacher at Jamie's House Charter School in Houston, said she was attempting to defend another student and, perhaps due to lack of training and adrenaline from breaking up a fight earlier that day, lost control. The boy she is shown in the video attacking, she said, had a violent history with teachers and students alike.

"These kids are just, basically, laying around on the floor, just being hostile. And this young lady was in the middle of the floor. The door was locked shut and the kids were there, kind of mimicking her. This particular young man, Isaiah, was bouncing around in a threatening, bullying position," Davis said. "I have adrenaline that is already building up with the fight that just happened minutes before."

Davis said she "lost her emotion" and attacked the boy. For nearly a minute she slapped and kicked 13-year-old Isaiah Johnson and no one, including faculty, stepped in.

"Clearly I do not justify my own response, but what needs to happen -- there needs to be a system designed that protects the kids," Davis said. "I should not be the protector for the child that was in immediate danger."

"She was not trying to hurt the child. She was trying to get his attention -- to intimidate him like he was intimidating that little girl," Davis' attorney, Lisa Andrews said. "She voluntarily stopped this. She wanted to get his attention but with adrenaline and fear and all those things that built up in those moments preceding this, she snapped in that moment."

The school fired Davis, who had twice been named the school's teacher of the year. Davis said that teachers at the school are not prepared to handle the students there.

"We receive very little training concerning these kids," she said. "We had no idea what we were getting into... Directly, I need to know how I can address this better than just blowing up."

An official for Jamie's House Charter School vehemently denied allegations that teachers are not properly trained.

"Of course we believe teachers receive adequate training based on the fact that nothing like this has happened before," spokesperson Sue Davis told "Good Morning America." "[Sherri Davis] needs to take responsibility for her own actions. She cannot use the school to justify what she did."

Sue Davis said that another teacher who witnessed the attack but did not report it voluntarily resigned rather than face disciplinary action.

Sherri Davis said she apologized "from one mother to another" directly to Isaiah's mom, but said the mother should play a greater role in Isaiah's life.

"What I would like to see come of this is [alleged victim] Isaiah's mother would become more involved... His mother hasn't been involved in his life concerning his education or disciplinary actions. So it would help if she would volunteer to be more active in his life," she said. "I expressed my sorrow that I did allow my emotions to overtake me."

Isaiah's mother, Alesha Johnson, did not know about the incident until friends showed her the cell phone video weeks after the attack.

Alleged Victim: 'I Was... Frightened'

The student, Isaiah Johnson, said he thought his teacher was "playing around" when she backed him into a corner at his Houston-area school. But then he quickly realized it was no joke.

"She started beating on her chest and she threw the desk and kicked the book," Isaiah told "Good Morning America" last week. "I was ... frightened."

Davis then slapped and kicked Isaiah for nearly a minute.

After learning of the attack, Isaiah's mother said she wants Davis put behind bars.

"It's horrifying," said Johnson last week. "He had bruises on his side where she was kicking him. He had a knot on his head, and he had a black eye.

"There is nothing they can say ... a grown-up beating on a child is not right," she said.

Andrews said that Davis is cooperating fully with investigators and is awaiting word on whether charges will be filed against her.

School Violence: Tips for Parents

While accounts of teachers attacking students are relatively rare, school violence in general is on the rise. More than 150,000 teachers reported they were attacked by students in the 2007-2008 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

In the midst of what "Good Morning America" parenting contributor and psychologist Ann Pleshette Murphy called an "epidemic of bullying" and violence in schools, Murphy said parents can take steps to help make sure their kids stay safe at school.

It's impossible to fix problems if you do not know they exist, so, Murphy said it's important to have "connection, connection, connection" with the school.

No one will know about the environment of the school better than those living in it, your kids. Giving them an adult to talk to allows kids to share things that may make them uncomfortable.

"You can't just put the kids in school and say, 'You take care of these problems,'" Murphy said.

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