Central Elementary school principal approved other paddling of students, records show

A Central Elementary school principal under fire for paddling one student approved corporal punishment for four other students in the past.

Melissa Carter was placed on paid leave as the Hendry County school district investigating the case of a student seen paddled on video by Carter in April.

And now, according to investigative documents released in the case, Carter signed off on paddling in the cases of four students between January 2020 and April 2021.

The internal investigation by the school district does not make mention of the video of a 6-year-old girl that sparked national outcry.

WINK News asked Paul Puletti, former Hendry County school district, how that could be.

“They’re not in custody of the video,” Pauletti said. “They don’t have, unless they got it through you, they don’t have custody, they don’t have possession of that as a source of evidence. They could mention it but it’s not something they’re going to hang their hat on since it’s not their evidence.”

Puletti is the superintendent who got rid of corporal punishment in Hendry County in 2016.

He also recommended Carter’s appointment as principal of Central Elementary.

Two of the five paddlings happened while Puletti was still in charge.

He said he was unaware of the paddlings.

“I was unaware that those had happened, nor did she ask or seek permission from me and I’m the one that put the policy in, so I’m shocked and amazed that she did not follow the rules,” Puletti said.

Despite the documented instances of corporal punishment, all five against school district policy, the Hendry County School Board reinstated Carter as principal. She returns to school in August.

It’s not a done deal that Carter returns to the school.

The State Department of Education found probable cause to sanction Carter for what’s on the video.

The state gave her four options. Carter has one more week to decide how she will respond.

Carter could lose her teacher’s certification.

WINK News reached out to Carter’s lawyer but he did not agree to an interview.

The Hendry County School District also declined to comment.

WINK News asked Puletti if it’s normal that despite breaking with policy Carter got her job back.

“There is nothing that says what the consequence is for failure to follow what policy are … I never had to deal with it so it’s hard for me to explain,” Puletti said.

What Puletti can easily explain is why he made the policy banning corporal punishment in the first place all the way back in 2016.

Puletti said he feared videos like this could lead to a potential lawsuit and unwanted media attention.

“You’ll paddle the wrong child whose parents will make an issue of it, and while it might be appropriate with state law, it drags you through the mud and certainly Mrs. Carter has been dragged through the mud on this,” Puletti said.

The internal investigation also reveals the school bookkeeper, school nurse, guidance counselor and at least two teachers heard Carter paddled a student or students though none directly witnessed it.

“It’s very hard, very hard to see a good district like Hendry county be the subject of this type of news,” Puletti said.

 

Reporter:Sydney Persing
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