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'Teacher Of The Year' Arrested For Allegedly Hitting Student Over Social Media Comment
Caroline Lee faces felony charges after a physical confrontation with a student who challenged her teaching methodology on Instagram, according to police.
Update: On Aug. 19, 2022, the State Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against Caroline Lee. Read more here.
A teacher whose work was recently celebrated by her school district now faces charges that she assaulted a student at her school over an online post that called her award into question.
Caroline Lee, 60, was arrested on Friday afternoon by the Duval School Board Police and placed in the custody of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. She made her first court appearance on the charge of third degree felony child abuse on Saturday morning, according to the ABC/NBC affiliate First Coast News in Jacksonville, and was released on her own recognizance — but under the condition that she have no contact with her victim and not return to work at the Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School of the Medical Arts.
The charges stem from an incident that police say began in the comments of an Instagram post by the school district on Wednesday congratulating Lee, an English teacher, for being named Teacher of the Year at Darnell-Cookman, the Florida Times-Union reported. Under the post announcing her award, several comments, seemingly by former students, questioned her selection alleging that the teacher had engaged in "microaggressions" — defined as day-to-day slights, indignities and subtle insults against marginalized people that others engage in automatically or subconsciously — and had used the n-word in the classroom.
Lee responded to one student in the comments, noting that she'd only used the term while teaching the John Steinbeck book "Of Mice And Men." The student noted that the word being in the book didn't justify Lee's use of the slur, and Lee reportedly agreed, albeit with a caveat.
"Cannot change the language of Steinbeck," Lee wrote, according to Law & Crime. "Education is a powerful tool. It promotes tolerance and understanding. [Duval County Public Schools] decided that this was ok, not me. It is on the curriculum guide."
But on Friday morning, Lee allegedly demanded that the student meet with her privately, despite not having that student in class, according to the Times-Union. The student reported to police that she told her own teacher she wasn't comfortable going, and instead went to the bathroom and returned to her own class, according to independent station WJXT in Jacksonville.
Police say that security cameras in the hallway show that, at 8:21 a.m., Lee left her classroom and went to the student's class and pulled her out of class, walking the student "at an aggressive pace" back to Lee's classroom a minute later, according to WJXT.
At 8:24 a.m., the student — holding her face — is seen leaving Lee's classroom and going directly to the guidance office. There, according to First Coast News, guidance counselors noticed injuries to the girl's face and called in the school police.
The student reported that, when she entered Lee's classroom, Lee first asked another student to leave, and told her alleged victim to sit down. Lee then asked the student why she'd made threats her, according to WJXT. The student denied making any threats, after which Lee allegedly "reached across the table and struck her on her face with the heel of her palm," according to the police report.
The student's nose began to bleed, and she put her hands up to it, she told police, after which Lee allegedly continued to hit her head and repeatedly called her a "f------ b----." The student attempted to grab the 60-year-old English teacher's hands, she said, to stop the attack, upon which Lee allegedly kicked the student in the shin.
Lee then threw open the backdoor of her classroom and told the student to get out, according to police.
Under questioning, Lee denied having shut the classroom doors during the interaction — though the student who'd been there when she marched her alleged victim in told police otherwise, according to the Times-Union — and denied having hit the student. She told police that another student showed her a message in which her alleged victim wrote something she interpreted as a threat, but which she had not reported to police or school administrators because she wasn't afraid. She also told police that she'd asked the student to remove the Instagram comments referencing her own use of the n-word while teaching "Of Mice and Men."
In a statement, Duval County Schools Superintendent Diana Greene said that Lee had been suspended from her duties.
"I have no tolerance for adults who harm children, especially adults in a position of trust," she added, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Darnell-Cookman principal Tyrus Lyles sent a statement to families with children in the school.
"While our processes assume innocence, these allegations and the resulting arrest are obviously far below the standards and expectations we have for our school," it read in part, according to WJXT. "This type of behavior is not tolerated here or anywhere in our district."