Jacksonville, FL – A 60-year-old schoolteacher chosen as “teacher of they year” was arrested on child abuse charges late last week after allegedly hitting a student who she said had threatened her, according to investigators.
The alleged attack occurred on Oct. 29, two days after Caroline Lee, a teacher at Darnell Cookman School of the Medical Arts, was congratulated on the Duvall County School’s Instagram page for being named “teacher of the year,” WRDW reported.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), someone commented on the post that Lee had used a racial slur in the classroom the year prior.
“Isn’t this the teacher who thought it was ok to say the n word while reading smth for educational purposes….” the comment read, according to WRDW.
Lee responded to the post explaining she had used the word in the context of a discussion about the book, “Of Mice and Men,” WRDW reported.
“Cannot change the language of Steinbeck,” she wrote. “Education is a powerful tool. It promotes tolerance and understanding. DCPS decided that this was ok, not me. It is on the curriculum guide.”
Students responded that using the racial slur in class was still wrong, and Lee concurred with them, according to police.
But investigators said Lee believed one student threatened to kill her in one of the posts.
On Oct. 29, Lee allegedly called a student to her classroom and asked her why she had threatened her, but the student denied having done anything wrong, WRDW reported.
The student said Lee then reached across the table and hit her with the palm of her hand repeatedly, leaving her with a bloody nose, according to the police report.
She said Lee also called her various expletives throughout the ordeal, WRDW reported.
The student claimed she tried to restrain her teacher by holding her arms, but that Lee kicked her in her lower leg, according to the police report.
The student went to the guidance counselor’s office and reported the alleged attack, at which point police were called to the school.
Investigators said school surveillance footage showed Lee and the student entering the classroom alone shortly before the student emerged holding her face, WJXT reported.
When questioned by police, Lee denied having physically harmed the student and said she did not know how she was injured.
Lee was ultimately arrested on a third-degree felony child abuse charge.
School officials subsequently issued a telephone alert to parents and guardians saying Lee was removed from the classroom while the case is pending.
“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,” the school’s principal, Tyrus Lyles said, according to NBC News. “Even more disappointing, the teacher arrested is our recent teacher of the year nominee.”
It is unclear whether or not Lee will return in the future, WRDW reported.
Lee has bonded out of jail and is awaiting a court hearing later this month, according to WJXT.
“I am in shock. I never saw this coming,” she told NBC News on Tuesday. “The truth will prevail.”
Duvall County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene said the allegations against Lee are “beyond disturbing.”
“What is alleged should never occur — ever — especially in a school setting,” Greene told NBC News. “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.”