Paul Puletti, a former Hendry County school superintendent, is responsible for the ban on corporal punishment in the school district he used to lead.
That’s why Puletti was surprised to see the video of Melissa Carter, Central Elementary School principal, paddling a 6-year-old student while a school clerk, Cecilia Self, held the girl down.
“I mean if anybody can watch that tape and not be disturbed by it? Then they have a smaller heart than I do,” Puletti said.
Voicemails left to Carter and Self went unreturned on Tuesday.
The paddling occurred after the student allegedly damaged a school computer, prompting administrators to call her mother to the school to pay a $50 bill for the damage.
Her daughter was paddled by Carter while Self held the child down, according to a police report. The child’s mother recorded the paddling but was scared to stop it because of her immigration status.
Afterward, the mother took her daughter to the hospital to document her injuries.
The case is under investigation by the Clewiston Police Department and the Department of Children and Families.
The child’s mother’s attorney Brent Probinskly has said the case is under review by the state attorney’s office.
The video, which has made national headlines, is not the first time a child has been paddled in Hendry County.
In fact, there was a paddling during Puletti’s tenure as superintendent by a principal at the same school that led to the ban on corporal punishment in 2016, Puletti said.
“The first incident, the child had bruises and the administrator was upset,” said Puletti, who led the school district from 2012 to 2020.
The principal back then had devoted 30-plus years with a “spotless record,” but no one remembers that.
“He just about fell apart. Yeah, I don’t mean he’s a quivering bowl of Jell-O, but I mean, he felt badly about this,” Puletti said.
The Hendry County School Board got rid of corporal punishment to not only protect the school district from lawsuits and children from harm but to also protect educators from bad mistakes.
“So I said, let’s not do this anymore,” Puletti said. “It’s not worth the risk to the child. It’s not worth the risk to the school system, or to the person whose career is on the line.”
Now, it’s Carter’s career on the line.
Puletti chose Carter to lead Central Elementary School. He described her as a “homegrown educator.”
“And I’m sure she’s now, knowing her the way I do, she’s now second-guessing what she did,” Puletti said.
Puletti told WINK News he faults the three adults in the room with the child.
“They failed that child,” Puletti said.
The Hendry County School District’s statement continues to be “no comment.”