Darnell-Cookman teacher could face prison time on child abuse charge, legal expert says

Caroline Lee, 60, released on own recognizance, ordered not to have contact with student

A teacher at Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts who was arrested Friday on a charge of child abuse against a student appeared before a judge Saturday morning and was released on her own recognizance, meaning she didn’t have to post bail.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A teacher at Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts who was arrested Friday on a charge of child abuse against a student appeared before a judge Saturday morning and was released on her own recognizance, meaning she didn’t have to post bail.

Caroline Lee, 60, who was recently named “Teacher of the Year” at the school, was ordered to have no contact with the student and was told not to return to Darnell Cookman. Principal Tyrus Lyles had already sent a message to parents that Lee had been removed from the classroom and would not return “pending the judicial and internal procedures.” (See more from Lyles’ message below)

Lee’s next court date was set for Nov. 22.

Caroline Lee, 60, released on own recognizance, ordered not to have contact with student

News4jax stopped by a home that is a potential address for her on Saturday night, and no one was home.

We also called her and nobody picked up the phone.

RELATED: Darnell-Cookman School’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ charged with child abuse

Attorney Gene Nichols, who’s not affiliated with this case, explained that child abuse is a felony in Florida.

“Most likely it will be filed as a third-degree felony, which can be punishable by up to five years in Florida State Prison. If there’s a potential for a lesser included offense, it would just be a battery charge and a battery charge is a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year,” Nichols said.

Nichols said her career as a teacher is in jeopardy.

“I anticipate the state of Florida to at least suspend her until the outcome of this criminal case,” he said. “Obviously, if she’s convicted of a felony, then she’s going to lose her teaching license.”

Nichols said there needs to be enough evidence of abuse for Lee to be convicted.

“If it is evident that child was struck by something, then it will lean more toward guilt. If there’s no evidence that the child was struck by something and there’s no form of bruising or anything to that extent, then her defense team will obviously argue that this incident didn’t happen,” Nichols said.

According to a police report, a school safety officer responded to the school’s guidance office Friday where the officer was told that a teacher, identified as Lee, injured a student.

According to the report, a JSO officer reviewed video footage of Lee’s activity during the morning hours. It notes at 8:21 a.m., Lee was seen leaving her classroom via the back door, walking toward the hall leading to another classroom where the student was in class.

The report notes that just over a minute later, Lee is seen walking ahead of the student “at an aggressive pace,” back to her classroom. Both enter via the back door.

At 8:24 a.m., the report states, the student is seen exiting the rear of the classroom. Her demeanor “seems low and she is holding her facial area...” The report notes that the student “is seen walking directly to the guidance office.”

Investigators determined during an interview with the student, according to the report, that her first period teacher told her that Lee wanted to speak with her in Lee’s classroom. The student told her teacher she was uncomfortable about going, and instead of going to see her, she went to the restroom instead. After returning to her teacher’s classroom, the student said, Lee entered and asked the student to come with her. The report notes that as they walked into Lee’s classroom, someone else was asked to step outside.

The student then said, according to the report, that she was asked by Lee to sit down, and she sat down at a desk. The report states Lee asked the student why she threatened her, to which the student replied that she didn’t threaten her.

That’s when, the report reads, the student told police: Lee “reached across the table and struck her on her face with the heel of her palm.” The student “stated she grabbed her nose because it started bleeding after she was struck.” The student “stated Lee then began repeatedly calling her a ‘f****** b****’ as she landed several more strikes on the top of head.” The student “stated she began trying to hold both of Lee’s arms to keep from being struck and Lee kicked her on her lower leg.”

The student told police Lee then opened the rear door and demanded she “get out,” and she walked to the guidance office.

When the school safety officer said he first responded to the guidance office, he learned that the incident was preceded by an Instagram post made on Duval County Public Schools’ account, where Lee was congratulated for winning its Teacher of the Year award.

Instagram post

According to the report, the post showed a comment that was made by the student that questioned if Lee was the same teacher that used the N-word in class last year. It notes that the post showed a response from Lee, where she explained the use of the word was in the context of the book “Of Mice and Men.”

According to the report, when interviewed by an officer, Lee acknowledged viewing the posts on the school’s Instagram page, and she added that another student shared with her a message allegedly posted by the student that Lee “interpreted as a threat to kill her.” She told the officer that because of the message, she felt the need to speak with the student.

The report states that Lee told police she wasn’t afraid and didn’t feel a need to report anything to police or staff members of the school. The report states Lee denied closing the doors to her classroom and that she described having a “range of emotions” during her contact with the student. It states she asked the student to take down the post referring to her using the N-word, and she denied doing any physical harm.

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene released the following statement:

“This allegation and the arrest are beyond disturbing. What is alleged should never occur—ever—especially in a school setting. I have no tolerance for adults who harm children, especially adults in a position of trust. We will cooperate with all investigations, and pending those results, we will take the actions necessary to stand up for and protect our students.”

Principal Tyrus Lyles alerted families to the arrest via a voicemail. It reads:

“Hello Darnell-Cookman families,

“It is very disappointing, but I am compelled to share with you that one of our teachers was arrested today on campus for child abuse. Even more disappointing, the teacher arrested is our recent teacher of the year nominee.

“This arrest stems from an incident that allegedly occurred today involving one of our students, and I have been in contact personally with that student’s family.

“While our processes assume innocence, these allegations and the resulting arrest are obviously far below the standards and expectations we have for our school. We pride ourselves on providing all students with exceptional instruction preparing them for the best colleges and rewarding careers. This type of behavior is not tolerated here or anywhere in our district.

“The teacher has been removed from the classroom and will not return, pending the judicial and internal procedures.

“My team will continue to cooperate with all investigations into the matter, and as these investigations conclude, we will take appropriate action. Thanks for your attention to this and despite the nature of this news, I hope you and your children have a great weekend, and I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday. Good bye.”