Hendry County school principal under investigation for paddling 6-year-old student in front of child’s mother

A Clewiston school principal is under investigation for paddling a student who allegedly damaged a computer, according to the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office report.

The Clewiston Police Department told WINK News they are now investigating a case of Central Elementary School Principal Melissa Carter paddling a student in front of her mother.

WINK News confirmed the Department of Children and Families is also investigating.

Some school districts allow corporal punishment, but the Hendry County School District does not.

The paddling was caught on video by the student’s mother.

WINK News is not identifying the mother to protect her and the child’s identity.

The family’s lawyer, Brent Probinsky, said Clewiston police have turned over the investigation to the State Attorney’s Office for the 20th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hendry County. The state attorney’s office is deciding whether they will bring criminal charges against Carter and Cecilia Self, a clerk at school also in the video, Probinsky said.

Attempts to reach Carter and Self through a school district spokesperson were unsuccessful.

In an exclusive interview with WINK News, the child’s mother spoke about what happened.

“The hatred with which she hit my daughter, I mean it was a hatred that, really I’ve never hit my daughter like she hit her,” the mother told WINK News in Spanish.

“I had never hit her,” the woman said as she cried.

The incident happened on April 13 when the school called the woman to say her 6-year-old daughter had caused damage to a computer. They said the fee would be $50.

According to the police report, the woman mentioned paddling with her and a deputy present, but she said she didn’t understand the process correctly due to a language barrier.

The woman went to the school to pay the fee, but she was taken to the principal’s office instead where she found her daughter, Carter and Self, but no deputy.

“My daughter was already in the office,” the woman said. “The principal started to scream.”

The woman looked around and started to get nervous.

“There are no cameras,” she said. “What are we doing in this place? My daughter and I, alone.”

So she did what she thought was her only option and hid her phone in her purse and set it to record.

“Nobody would have believed me,” the mother said. “I sacrificed my daughter, so all parents can realize what’s happening in this school.”

Hendry County School District policy does not allow corporal punishment.

It states: “The superintendent shall designate sanctions for the infractions of rules, excluding corporal punishment.”

The policy also encourages procedures that “do not demean students” and “do not tend to violate any individual rights constitutionally guaranteed to students.”

“That’s aggravated battery,” said Probinsky, an attorney who works with undocumented immigrants. “They’re using a weapon that can cause severe physical, harm.”

“The child is terrified, she feels vulnerable. There’s nothing she can do in the hands of these adults, who treated her so brutally, savagely, sadistically,” Probinsky added.

The woman took her daughter to the doctor the same day to document the red marks and bruises caused by the paddle.

She is now worried about long-lasting psychological damage.

“I’m going to get justice for my daughter because if I could not do it in front of her, I’m going to do it with justice,” the woman said.

WINK News contacted the Hendry County School District for an interview several times.

They told us “no comment.”

Reporter:Val Simpson
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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