A Florida teacher who was arrested and charged with child abuse last fall has had the charges dropped, with the state attorney’s office casting doubt on the allegations.
Caroline Lee, 60, was named “Teacher of the Year” by the Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts after teaching English there for eight years. But almost as soon as the school announced the award, a student claimed that Lee had slapped her in the face, leading to an arrest and child abuse charges against the award-winning teacher, Law & Crime reported.
Last week, those charges were dropped, with the Duval County State Attorney’s Office explaining why the allegations against Lee didn’t add up. Prosecutors wrote in a disposition statement that “it would have been extremely difficult for the Defendant to have struck the Victim in the face.” The disposition statement, obtained by News4JAX, labeled the accuser as a victim even though her account was disputed.
The accusing student, who has not been named by media outlets and is unlikely to face any discipline over the incident, had been posting threatening messages about Lee, including posts wishing for Lee’s death. Instead of going to administrators, Lee decided to speak with the student privately, according to the disposition. The student denied that she had made the threats, and claimed Lee struck her repeatedly in the head while shouting expletives. The attack allegedly left the student with a nosebleed.
Prosecutors, however, disputed the student’s version of events. Aside from the height difference making the attack unlikely, prosecutors also doubted that the nosebleed was conclusive proof of an attack.
“The Defendant has been consistent in her denial of the account, and the physical size of the parties and description of events is consistent with her account. Additionally, the Defendant has a viable argument that the Victim reported the incident in an effort to avoid another disciplinary action from the school administration,” prosecutors said in the disposition statement.
With the charges dropped, Lee is free to teach again, however, she cannot return to Darnell-Cookman. The school disavowed the teacher and revoked her teaching award. The accuser’s mother also made a deal with an assistant state attorney that apparently ensure Lee cannot return to her old school, Law & Crime reported.
“I was in total shock and denial,” Lee told The Florida Times-Union in an interview. “One of the main reasons I want to speak out is because I’m terrified other teachers will be treated the way I was. There comes a time when we have to say enough is enough. My administration did not protect me, my other teachers did but were told to be quiet. The student went on to begin ninth grade. And I’m not allowed to return.”
“I’ve had the most wonderful career at Darnell-Cookman,” she added. “I love those students. I don’t think the principal (who has since left the school) knew how to deal with this. I’m not pointing fingers, but the system is broken. I really feel like my administrators did nothing to help me. I was guilty before proven innocent.”