DCF: Clewiston principal has paddled students in the past

After receiving documents from Hendry County District Schools, WINK News learned Wednesday the Clewiston principal under investigation for paddling a young student had prior incidents for paddling two other students.

School district documents also show the discipline it handed down to Principal Melissa Carter of Central Elementary School: Carter had to get rid of her wooden paddle, and she was put on administrative leave with pay for two days in April. She was then suspended again with pay in April during a fact-finding investigation at the school district.

According to the records, Carter said she would not paddle another student again within the school district in a handwritten oath, also writing, “I have read and understand the policy.”

Hendry County school district has a no corporal punishment policy. Other school staff members were also documented saying they had no idea corporal punishment violated school district policy.

Those same documents outline an interview Florida Department of Children and Families conducted with the student victim of the paddling.

The first-grade student, a 6-year-old girl, had to rewatch the video her mother recorded of her punishment when she met with investigators from DCF.

During the interview with investigators, the little girl also told investigators she likes to play with her dog. She likes to draw. She likes math.

Then, she moved on to the hard stuff. She said the principal is very mean to everyone. She told investigators it was the first time she had ever been paddled. That, afterward, she had “purple bruises,” and, “It hurts when she sits down.”

Then, the investigator noted the girl got upset and started to cry.

DCF’s interview with Carter was emotional too. Carter defended the paddling. She said, “The first lick was a good one, and the second and third were soft taps.”

Investigators said Carter told them she felt, “humiliated because the mother has put the video on social media.”

Carter swore, “She would never intentionally hurt a child.” She said the mother, “requested it,” and “never tried to stop her. ”

DCF said consent did not matter. What Mrs. Carter did was, “excessive and inappropriate.”

DCF recommended no, “contact with young and vulnerable children in an official capacity. ”

But Superintendent Michael Swindle said Carter will be principal of Central Elementary School this coming school year after wrapping up their own internal investigation at the school district.

Swindle told us he was not aware of the DCF report or the conclusion of the Florida Department of Education investigation either.

Carter’s attorney would not talk to us Wednesday. We are set to meet Thursday afternoon.

The attorney for the girl’s mother gave us documents he told us came from DCF.

A DCF spokesman would not comment on the investigation.

Florida Department of Education responded to WINK News Wednesday night to update Principal Melissa Carter’s case with the state.

According to the DOE’s statement, Melissa Carter’s attorney and the school district received a letter from DOE Wednesday that says Carter must move forward with an Election of Rights in her case, which could include her choosing to surrender her Florida educator certificate for permanent revocation.

Florida Department of Education Statement

A letter Finding of Probable Cause was sent from the Florida Department of Education to Melissa Carter’s attorney and to the school district on Wednesday morning. Ms. Carter will receive an Election of Rights, allowing her to select which option she would like to elect, including surrender of her certificate for permanent revocation, negotiate a settlement agreement with the Florida Department of Education, a formal hearing before an administrative law judge at the Division of Administrative Hearings, or an informal hearing before the Education Practices Commission. She has up to 21 days to return the Election of Rights. Upon completion of whichever path she elected, the case will go to the Education Practices Commission to be placed on a hearing agenda. At that time, the case will be heard and a resolution would be issued through a Final Order.

Parents entrust their children’s lives with every school employee responsible for providing students a world-class education. That trust should never be broken.

Unfortunately, we cannot provide you with any additional specifics regarding this case as it is currently active. Having said that, Commissioner Corcoran has placed an emphasis on student safety and has aggressively taken action against school employees whose conduct threatens that trust. Commissioner Corcoran is committed to continue holding school employees to the highest standards of professional conduct to ensure that Florida’s 2.9 million students have a safe and healthy learning environment.

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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