Caroline Melanie Lee, a teacher at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High in Jacksonville, Florida, was recently tapped as Teacher of the Year. However, just as she settled into her new honor, she was arrested and charged with third-degree felony child abuse for allegedly striking a student at the school.
Lee is accused of hitting a girl who has not been named in the face, causing her nose to bleed, after the student reportedly questioned Lee’s appropriateness for the honor on social media, a Duval Schools Police report obtained by News4Jax stated.
In a since-deleted Instagram post, Duval County Public Schools shared Lee’s photo, but instead of congratulatory remarks, some people in the comments section reportedly questioned whether the 60-year-old Lee was the same teacher who used the N-word and engaged in other micro-aggressions against students.
Lee denied using the slur in a offensive manner, claiming that she was only saying it when reading the John Steinbeck controversial novel “Of Mice and Men” in class. In addition, officers also stated that Lee acknowledged that it was her word against the girl’s but still maintained she did not cause physical harm to the child, according to the outlet.
Authorities said Lee claimed she thought the message on Instagram was “a threat to kill her,” she noted that she was “not afraid” and “did not feel the need” to report the message to staff.
On Friday, Oct. 29, police say Lee went to the first-period class of the student and asked that teacher if she could speak to the student privately. The teacher later told the student — who does not have any classes with Lee — of this request, but the girl did not comply with it. The police report says Lee later returned to the same class and got the girl to leave with her.
School surveillance video showed Lee “walking at an aggressive pace” to her classroom with the student following prior to the incident. A boy at the door to Lee’s class was told to leave, and Lee and the girl went inside and closed the doors.
Once they were inside talking about the post that’s when Lee reached across the table and struck the girl several times, causing her nose to bleed, the student told officials. A few minutes later, the student was seen leaving the classroom holding her face and walking with a “low demeanor” to a guidance counselor’s office, where she reported the incident.
The who had been at the door confirmed that all but a calm conversation took place in Lee’s classroom, telling authorities he heard shouting coming from inside.
Principal Tyrus Lyles sent out a statement to students and the community via voicemail, stating, “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.” He added. “Even more disappointing, the teacher arrested is our recent teacher of the year nominee.”
An investigation into the situation is said to be ongoing and Lee has since been removed from the school and will not return pending the outcome of the findings. She has since been released on her recognizance and was ordered not to make contact with the student. Her next court date is set for Nov. 22.
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