Caroline Lee Darnell-Cookman teacher of the year arrested for child abuse over use of N-word and striking child following controversial Instagram post at Florida school.
A Jacksonville, Florida area educator who was named Teacher of the Year at her school last week was arrested for allegedly striking a student in the face after the girl claimed on social media that the teacher had used the ‘N-word’ in class.
Caroline ‘Melanie’ Lee, 60, was booked into the Duval County Jail on a child abuse charge on Friday. The English teacher made her initial court appearance on Saturday. A judge barred the educator from making any contact with the victim and ordered Lee to stay away from the school.
The incident is alleged to have occurred at the prestigious Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts, a magnet middle and high school with accolades for educational achievement bestowed on it by both federal and national authorities.
Lee was arrested after calling a student into her classroom to speak privately and allegedly striking the female student on the face, leaving the minor with a bloody nose, according to The Florida Times-Union, citing a Duval Schools Police report.
The confrontation was instigated by an Instagram post by Duval County Public Schools on Wednesday of Lee being named Teacher of the Year at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School, according to the police report.
Several comments on the post questioned the win, with one user writing: ‘isnt (sic) this the teacher who thought it was ok to say the n word while reading smth (sic) for educational purposes…..’
Lee replied that she had only used the slur in the context of discussing John Steinbeck’s book Of Mice and Men.
The student retorted that saying the word ‘in anyway (sic) doesnt (sic) make it any better.’
On Friday, Lee asked to speak to the student who made the comment about her use of the racial epithet.
When the girl got to Lee’s classroom, the student said, Lee closed the door behind her and asked the girl why the student had sought to threaten her online. The student said she didn’t. The 5-foot-2, 117-pound teacher then reached across the table and struck the child with the heel of her palm in the face, causing her nose to bleed, according to the police report. She then allegedly continued hitting the girl on the head while calling her a ‘f***ing b****,’ reported News4Jax.
When the girl tried to stop the teacher from hitting her by grabbing her hands, Lee allegedly kicked the student in her lower leg. She then ordered the child to ‘get out.’
Lee denied physically harming the student, telling a police officer that she only wanted to talk to the student whose Instagram message she perceived as ‘a threat to kill her.’ But, she added, she was ‘not afraid’ and ‘did not feel the need’ to report the message to staff.
Educator insists she perceived student online comments as threatening
The 60-year-old educator, however, could not explain the girl’s bloody nose WPTV reported.
School surveillance video showed Lee ‘walking at an aggressive pace’ to her classroom before the incident and the student, about four minutes later, leaving the classroom holding her face and walking with a ‘low demeanor’ to a guidance counselor’s office, where she reported the incident, the responding officer said in the report.
During police questioning, Lee allegedly told police she had interpreted the student’s online comments as a threat against her life.
Duval Schools Superintendent Diana Greene said in a statement that the allegation was ‘beyond disturbing’ and that schools officials will cooperate with all investigations.
‘What is alleged should never occur — ever — especially in a school setting,’ Greene said. ‘I have no tolerance for adults who harm children, especially adults in a position of trust.’
Attorney Gene Nichols, who’s not affiliated with this case, explained that child abuse is a felony in Florida.
‘Most likely it will be filed as a third-degree felony, which can be punishable by up to five years in Florida State Prison. If there’s a potential for a lesser included offense, it would just be a battery charge and a battery charge is a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year,’ Nichols told News4Jax.
Nichols told the media outlet that Lee’s career as a teacher is in jeopardy.
‘I anticipate the state of Florida to at least suspend her until the outcome of this criminal case,’ the lawyer added. ‘Obviously, if she’s convicted of a felony, then she’s going to lose her teaching license.’
Lee was released from jail on Saturday without bond. She is due back in court on November 22.