Florida ‘teacher of the year’ arrested, charged with child abuse after confrontation about N-word use

Caroline Lee

Caroline Lee, 60, is barred from making any contact with the victim and must stay away from the school.

A Florida educator once hailed as the teacher of the year at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School was arrested Friday for allegedly hitting a student in the face for calling out her use of the ‘N-word’ in class.

English teacher Caroline ‘Melanie’ Lee, 60, was booked into the Duval County Jail on a child abuse charge and made her first court appearance Saturday.

Lee was arrested after claims that she called a student into her classroom to speak to her in private about the student blasting her on social media for using the racial epithet while discussing the book Of Mice And Men.

At some point during their face-to-face confrontation, the teacher allegedly became agitated and struck the female student on the face, leaving her with a bloody nose, before striking her on the head and calling her a “f—ing b—-.” The student allegedly tried to stop the teacher from hitting her by grabbing her hands, but Lee allegedly kicked the student in her lower leg before ordering her to “get out.”

A judge has since barred Lee from making any contact with the victim and ordered her to stay away from the school.

The volatile exchange started when the student responded to an Instagram post by Duval County Public Schools celebrating Lee for being named teacher of the year at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School, according to the police report. The student who was attacked allegedly commented under the post mentioning Lee’s sharing of the slur.

Lee directly replied to her on social media that she had only used the slur in the context of discussing John Steinbeck‘s novel, to which the student shot back that saying the word “in anyway… doesn’t make it any better.”

When officers responded to the scene, Lee denied physically harming the student despite physical evidence of a struggle, and she also told the police that she perceived herself as the victim. In her account, the educator said that she took the student calling her out on social media as “a threat to kill her.”

Despite her claims of feeling threatened, she conceded to investigators that she was “not afraid” and “did not feel the need” to report the message to staff.

Lee’s version of the events were contradicted by the student’s bloody nose. Surveillance footage obtained by police showed Lee “walking at an aggressive pace” to her classroom before the incident, and showed the visibly dismayed student holding her face and heading to the guidance counselor’s office minutes later.

Duval Schools Superintendent Diana Greene has said in a statement that schools officials will cooperate with all investigations to get to the bottom of these “beyond disturbing” allegations.

“What is alleged should never occur — ever — especially in a school setting,” said Greene. “I have no tolerance for adults who harm children, especially adults in a position of trust.”

Lee’s next court date is set for Nov. 22, according to News 4.

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