Florida woman charged with child abuse days after being named ‘teacher of the year’

Student criticised Caroline Lee on Instagram over her alleged use of the ‘n’ word in classroom discussion about Of Mice and Men, police say

Bevan Hurley
Sunday 31 October 2021 21:05
<p>Caroline Melanie Lee</p>

Caroline Melanie Lee

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A Florida woman has appeared in court charged with child abuse days after being nominated by her school as ‘Teacher of the Year’.

Caroline Melanie Lee, 60, was charged with felony 3rd-degree child abuse after she allegedly struck a student at Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts in Jacksonville in the face, causing them to bleed from the nose.

According to a Duvall Schools Police report, the dispute began when the school district made an Instagram post last Wednesday congratulating Lee for being named Teacher of the Year.

The report stated the student commented on the post to ask if this was the same teacher who had used the “n” word in class last year, WPTV reported.

Lee replied to say the word had been used in the context of a discussion about the John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men, according to police.

The student, who is a minor and has not been identified, responded on the Instagram post to say that this was not the right thing to do.

The same student said when she arrived at the school on Friday, she was told Lee wanted to speak to her privately in her classroom despite not being in any of her classes this year.

The student told police when she sat down in the classroom Lee allegedly reached across the table and struck her several times with the palm of her hand, according to the police report, causing her nose to bleed.

According to police, Lee continued to strike her as blood poured from her nose, and called her swear words.

Citing an arrest report, The Florida Times-Union wrote that Lee denied striking anyone and said it would be the student’s word against her own.

She said she asked to speak to the student as she felt the Instagram had been “a threat to kill her.”

Lee added she was “not afraid” and had not felt the need to report the message to school staff.

Police obtained surveillance footage which showed Lee walking to the classroom “at an aggressive pace” prior to the alleged assault taking place.

Footage showed the student leaving the classroom about four minutes later holding her face. She went straight to a guidance counsellor’s office where she reported the incident.

She was arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Friday and made a first court appearance on Saturday.

In a message to parents after the arrest, Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts principal Tyrus Lyles said it was “very disappointing” that a member of staff had been charged with child abuse.

“Even more disappointing, the teacher arrested is our recent teacher of the year nominee.”

Duval Schools Superintendent Diana Greene released a statement to The Florida Times-Union calling the incident “beyond disturbing”.

“What is alleged should never occur—ever—especially in a school setting,” she said. 

“I have no tolerance for adults who harm children, especially adults in a position of trust.”

Lee has been removed from the school while a criminal and internal investigations are completed.

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