Nominated Jacksonville ‘Teacher of the Year’ makes first court appearance on child abuse charge

Caroline Lee, 60, is charged with felony 3rd-degree child abuse for an alleged altercation with a student.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville teacher and recent nominee of the DCPS “Teacher of the Year” award made her first court appearance Saturday morning on a 3rd-degree felony child abuse charge.

The Duval School Board Police confirmed Friday that Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts teacher Caroline Lee, 60, had been arrested following an alleged altercation with a student. Lee is the school’s “Teacher of the Year.”

According to the police report, DCPS made an Instagram post on Wednesday congratulating Lee on her “Teacher of the Year” award, and a student commented on the post questioning if Lee was the same teacher that used the “N” word in class last year.

Lee responded, essentially saying the word was used in the context of the book “Of Mice and Men” and the student reiterated this was not the right thing to do in the post.

On Friday, that same student, who has not been identified, was treated for a facial injury at the school’s guidance office. The student informed police that Lee was the cause of the injury.

The student stated that when she arrived in class she was told that Lee wanted to speak with her in her classroom. The student was uneasy and went to the restroom instead.

When the student returned, she said Lee was there and she told the student to come with her.

Video footage shows Lee walking ahead of the student at an aggressive pace to her classroom.

Once inside, the student stated Lee asked her to sit at a desk while Lee closed the doors.

The student stated that Lee asked why she threatened her and when she responded she did not threaten her, Lee then struck the student with the heel of her palm, causing her to bleed.

The student said Lee continued to hit her and call her profanities, and when she tried to stop the attacks, Lee struck her in the leg. Then the student said she was told to get out.

The student then went to the school’s guidance office.

Police conducted an interview with Lee after the incident. Lee told police that another student showed her a message allegedly posted by the injured student. Lee said she felt threatened by it and felt the need to confront the student.

Lee said she did not close the doors and she asked for the removal of the post the injured student made involving the “N” word. Lee stated she did not cause the student physical harm.

Based on video footage and visible injury to the student, Lee was arrested.

Following her appearance in front of a judge Saturday, Lee was released from the Duval County Jail on her own recognizance, meaning no bond is due. The judge told Lee she is to not contact the alleged victim or enter the Darnell-Cookman campus.

Her next court date is set for November 22.

The school’s principal, Tyrus Lyles, sent a letter to Darnell-Cookman families that reads:

“Hello Darnell-Cookman families,

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. Even more disappointing, the teacher arrested is our recent teacher of the year nominee.

This arrest stems from an incident that allegedly occurred today involving one of our students, and I have been in contact personally with that student’s family.

While our processes assume innocence, these allegations and the resulting arrest are obviously far below the standards and expectations we have for our school. We pride ourselves on providing all students with exceptional instruction preparing them for the best colleges and rewarding careers. This type of behavior is not tolerated here or anywhere in our district.

The teacher has been removed from the classroom and will not return, pending the judicial and internal procedures.

My team will continue to cooperate with all investigations into the matter, and as these investigations conclude, we will take appropriate action. Thanks for your attention to this and despite the nature of this news, I hope you and your children have a great weekend, and I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday. Goodbye.”

DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene also responded to the incident saying, “This allegation and the arrest are beyond disturbing. What is alleged should never occur — ever — especially in a school setting. 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.”

This is a developing story and Action News Jax is working to learn more.