Florida Teacher of the Year arrested for child abuse

A woman who was recently named teacher of the year at a school in Florida was charged Friday with child abuse.

A heavily edited report from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Caroline Lee, a teacher at the Darnell-Cookman School of Medical Arts, was arrested by Duval County School Police.

Lee, 60, was named Darnell-Cookman Teacher of the Year in October, and would have competed with about 175 other teachers for Duval County Teacher of the Year.

When the district announced Lee’s nomination on their Instagram page Wednesday, a student commented and wondered if she was the teacher who had used racial slander in the class last year, an arrest report from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said.

Lee wrote that she used the veil during a lesson on “Of Mice and Men.” She then called the student to talk to her on Friday.

The police report said that when Lee was alone with the student in her classroom, she closed the door and asked the student why she had threatened her in an online posting. After the student refused to make any threats, Lee punched her in the face with his palm, according to the report. The student brought her hand to her nose, which began to bleed. That was when Lee called her an explosive and started hitting her in the head, the report said.

The teacher also kicked the student in the leg, according to police.

The student reported the alleged assault to supervisors, who noticed visible damage, according to police.

Lee denied having closed the door and physically injured the student, the police report said. She told deputies she felt threatened by the student because of the Instagram comment, but she did not feel the need to report the alleged threat. She said she was trying to show the student that she was not a racist and she was a “good person”, the report said.

Lee was arrested because of video evidence and the visible damage to the student, police said.

As of Monday, prison records show Lee was no longer in Jacksonville’s custody.

“I’m in shock. I’ve never seen this coming,” Lee told NBC News on Tuesday. “The truth will prevail.”

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene called the allegations “beyond disturbing.”

“What is being alleged should never occur – ever – especially in a school context. I have no tolerance for adults harming children, especially adults in a position of trust,” she said. “We will cooperate with all investigations, and pending these results, we will take the necessary steps to stand up for and protect our students.”

Tyrus Lyles, the school’s principal, wrote in a message to parents after the incident that Lee had been removed from the classroom.

“It’s very disappointing, but I’m forced to share with you that one of our teachers was arrested today on campus for child abuse,” Lyles wrote. “Even more disappointing, the arrested teacher is our recent nominee for Teacher of the Year.”

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