8:26 AM PDT, November 3, 2021
A Florida teacher was arrested and charged with child abuse for allegedly hitting a student just days after being named ‘Teacher of the Year,’ police said, according to published reports.
Caroline Melanie Lee, 60, a teacher at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School in Duval County, Fl. was arrested on Friday at the school on a felony child abuse charge, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
The incident allegedly took place last week after the Duval County Public School announced on their Instagram that Caroline Melanie Lee was “Teacher of the Year.” The student, a minor whose name was not released, commented on Lee’s win and questioned if Lee was the same teacher who allegedly used the N-word in class last year, according to the arrest report obtained by Inside Edition Digital. Lee responded to the student by explaining that her use of the N-word was in the context of the book, “Of Mice and Men.” The student reiterated, in her post, that the use of the word was not the right thing to do in class and the teacher reportedly agreed with the student’s assertion, the arrest report said.
The student told police that after Lee “agreed,” she thought that was the end of [the matter] as far as she was concerned, the arrest report stated.
When the teacher saw the student in class, she says she requested to speak to the student privately in her classroom. The student told the authorities that during the meeting Lee asked her to sit down and then asked her why she “threatened her”, according to the report. The student responded and told Lee that she did not “threaten” her, then the student said Lee reached across the table and allegedly struck her on her face with the heel of her palm, according to the report. The student said that she grabbed her nose because it started bleeding after she was struck, the arrest report stated.
The student said that Lee then began repeatedly calling her a “f****** bitch,” as she continued to strike her on the top of her head, according to the arrest report. The student stated that she tried to hold both of Lee’s arms to keep from being struck and Lee kicked her on her lower leg, the arrest report stated.
The student said that Lee then opened the rear door of the classroom and demanded she “get out.” The student stated that she went directly to the guidance office. She said her guidance counselor was out of the office, so she spoke with another guidance counselor in the office about what had occurred, the arrest report stated.
According to the arrest report, the teacher denied doing any physical harm to the student and could not explain the bloody nose that the student sustained. Lee explained that she and the student were the only people in the classroom and told police it was the student’s word against hers, according to the report.
The teacher told police that she wanted to talk to the student about an Instagram message which she “interpreted as as a threat to kill her.” She claimed to police that she was not afraid of the student and did not feel the need to report the alleged threat to police or administrative staff, the report said.
Lee told police she had a range of emotions during her contact with the student, “from feeling angry, upset, and disappointed with the student.” She said she asked the student to take down her post referring to her using the “N” word because everyone sees those posts. Lee stated she wanted to impress upon the student that she was not racist and that she is a nice person, the report said.
The report stated that based on the evidence gathered, which includes the timeline captured via video footage and the visible injury to the child, Lee was placed under arrest without incident and transported to the PDF.
Inside Edition Digital reached out to the Duval School District for comment, and received a statement from Superintendent Diana Green.
“This allegation and the arrest are beyond disturbing. What is alleged should never occur, ever, especially in a school setting. I have no tolerance for adults who harm children, especially adults in a position of trust,” Green said.
“We will cooperate with all investigations, and pending those results, we will take the actions necessary to stand up for and protect our students.”
On Friday following the incident, the Darnell-Cookman principal, Tyrus Lyles, issued a letter to the parents.
“It is very disappointing, but I am compelled to share with you that one of our teachers was arrested today on campus for child abuse. Even more disappointing, the teacher arrested is our recent teacher of the year nominee,” Lyles said.
“This arrest stems from an incident that allegedly occurred today involving one of our students, and I have been in contact personally with that student’s family. While our processes assume innocence, these allegations and the resulting arrest are obviously far below the standards and expectations we have for our school. We pride ourselves on providing all students with exceptional instruction preparing them for the best colleges and rewarding careers. This type of behavior is not tolerated here or anywhere in our district.”
Lyles told parents that “the teacher has been removed from the classroom and will not return, pending the judicial and internal procedures.”
The Insider reported that Lee told it that she was in a state of shock and “did not see this one coming.” She said further comments will be made by her attorney.
Duval County Clerk of Courts told Inside Edition Digital that Lee’s next scheduled court date is Nov. 22.