JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Florida English teacher who was just named Teacher of the Year at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High in Jacksonville has been charged with a count of child abuse against a student at the school.
Caroline Melanie Lee, 60, was arrested Friday.
The arrest came after a student said Lee called her into her classroom to speak privately and allegedly struck her on the face causing a bloody nose, according to a Duval Schools Police report.
Lee, the student — who is a minor and is not named in the report — and other witnesses told the responding police officer that the incident began with a conversation about an Instagram post earlier this week.
On Wednesday, the Duval County Public Schools Instagram account posted a photo of Lee, congratulating her for being named the school’s Teacher of the Year. But several comments on the post questioned the win, asking if Lee was the same teacher who used the ‘n’ word during instruction and alleging other microaggressions committed against students, according to the police report. The original Instagram post and comments has since been deleted.
Student said teacher struck her several times
Lee responded to one of the comments and also explained to a police officer Friday that she used the ‘n’ word when reading the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ in class. Teachings of the book have previously come under fire across the country, raising the question of how to ethically teach readings with terms and phrases that are no longer acceptable.
Friday, Lee asked to speak with that student privately in her classroom, despite the student not being in any of her classes this year, according to the police report.
The student told police when she got in the classroom that Lee reached across the table and struck her several times, according to the police report, causing her nose to bleed.
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In the arrest report, the officer wrote that Lee acknowledged the conflict was the student’s word against her own. Lee denied doing physical harm to the student. She said she wanted to talk to the student, after seeing a message on Instagram she thought was “a threat to kill her.” But, she added, she was “not afraid” and “did not feel the need” to report the message to staff.
The responding officer said school surveillance footage shows 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.
Lee told police, according to the report, that she left her door open when the student was in her classroom. But police said another student, who was decorating Lee’s classroom door that morning, said Lee asked him to leave and she closed the door behind him. The student reported hearing the teacher raise her voice as he was standing in the hallway.
Lee was arrested that morning after the officer spoke with the student victim, Lee and four witnesses — though no one else was inside the classroom with Lee and the student.
Following the arrest, the school’s Principal Tyrus Lyles called students’ families with the news.
“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 said. “Even more disappointing, the teacher arrested is our recent teacher of the year nominee.”
Lyles said he is in contact with the student’s family.
School district says the situation is ‘beyond disturbing’
In response to the incident, Duval Schools Superintendent Diana Greene released a statement calling the situation “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. We will cooperate with all investigations, and pending those results, we will take the actions necessary to stand up for and protect our students.”
Lee has been removed from the classroom and will not return, pending judicial and internal procedures, the principal said.